Seven candidates will vie for three at-large seats on the Fairfax County School Board in the Nov. 8 elections.
As election day approaches, Patch has selected six questions based on submissions from readers and sent them in a survey to all at-large candidates.
Over the course of the next week, Patch will run the responses of the six candidates who returned the questionnaires. These responses are unedited, in the candidates' own words. Note: Candidate Lin-Dai Kendall did not return the survey.
Oct. 11: Steve Stuban
Oct. 12: Ted Velkoff
Today, Steve Stuban
Is FCPS underfunded, overfunded, or properly funded at the current level? Explain.
This is difficult to assess definitively without access to detailed financial and operational information for FCPS. That said, according to the Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE) guide, FCPS seems to be funded at a comparable level to other school systems in our area (although WABE had no information on Montgomery County as a benchmark). However, as FCPS's current auditing function is apparently limited to a checkbook balancing exercise only -- as opposed to one that validates program requirements as well as the efficiency of mission implementation – I cannot at this point say with certainty whether our educational system in Fairfax County, as a whole, is under-, over- or properly funded. As a Board member, I would lead my colleagues to establish a very small, but highly effective, Inspector General (IG)/Auditing team that reports directly to the Board. This team would, among other things (please see the answer to question 3 below for its other functions), provide concrete analysis to the board about the efficacy of all FCPS programs.
When you compare high schools in Fairfax County, especially looking at free and reduced meals and band and athletic booster numbers, there is a large disparity between some high schools, resulting in “Have vs Have-not” schools within Fairfax County. How do you intend to deal with this growing disparity? How does the School Board and Board of Supervisors plan to help the most needy schools, as its budget continues to shrink?
Our community continues to make a notable commitment to educating our children by allocating 53.5% of its 2011 fiscal budget to the school system. When you include state and federal government contributions, as well as citizen and corporate contributions, that’s a fiscal budget for the school system of over $2.2 billion, which breaks down to an investment of approximately $12,550 per student each year. However, this does not cover all student expenses and, as FCPS resources have become more limited, it has become necessary to charge a student athletic participation fee to cover typical expenses such as stipends for coaches, team transportation, game official fees and facilities costs. This is particularly troublesome as there is a known correlation between achievement and participation in extracurricular activities – as students do better when there are strong connections with their schools. Fortunately, this fee barrier to participation in athletics has been removed for students eligible for federal free or reduced price meal programs, and payment is handled confidentially on-line, rather than through the school, to prevent any stigma for students needing such waivers. In addition, some parent Athletic and Band Booster Clubs have filled this gap and made a significant impact raising funds to assist with team expenses such as covering the cost of uniforms, equipment and capital improvements. For instance, at James Madison High School about 50% of the athletic budget is borne by the Booster Clubs -- which has taken care of costly improvements to the athletic complex such as overhauling the bleacher area, installing the scoreboard, and replacing the football field with a high tech synthetic turf, thereby enhancing the experience of our students. However, I would like to consider further data on whether participation opportunities vary drastically across FCPS schools and whether there are wide disparities in student participation across schools and amongst at risk subgroups. I would also like further data on the degree of financial support parent Athletic and Band Booster Clubs provide to meet their team needs. Unfortunately, there is concern about unevenness in the level of parental support, particularly from within our school boundary areas which service a greater proportion of students receiving free and reduced price lunches. This unevenness has created the appearance of disparities between “Have vs Have not” schools. I would like to consider further data to substantiate these disparities and, to the extent that they exist, and have a bearing on student achievement, I believe additional funding to even out the extracurricular opportunities and participation could be made available under the umbrella of activities supported by programs such as FCPS’s Priority Schools Initiative, which is intended to promote student academic achievement and close the achievement gap.
The School Board is almost entirely dependent on school system staff for knowledge and understanding, and, there is no standing ombudsman function. Do you trust the central office staff of FCPS to provide the School Board with honest, well-reasoned, fact-based analysis of policy questions facing that body?
To ensure the School Board receives the fact-based analysis of questions it requests, the School Board should create a very small, but important, Inspector General (IG)/Auditing team that reports directly to the School Board. The IG office would include: (1) an inspection/investigation/auditing capability to validate appropriateness of policy analyses, programs and associated resources, to include personnel and budget; (2) an Ombudsman role to aid in identifying and addressing FCPS stakeholder (students, families, teachers, staff and the community at large) concerns; and (3) a whistleblower function to investigate reports of potential mismanagement of FCPS programs and/or resources, or other potentially serious and problematic matters.
What role do you think parents should play in setting policy and effecting change in our school system? If you had to draw a pie chart showing all those whom you think should be involved in overseeing FCPS policies, what would it look like?
I see three principal stakeholders: students/parents, FCPS teachers/staff and Fairfax County taxpayers. Each of their voices should be heard loud and clear by the Board. One third of the “pie” belongs to the more than 177,000 students and their parents who are the direct recipients of our outstanding educational services. Another third belongs to the 22,800 FCPS employees -- FCPS being the County’s largest employer – i.e., the teachers and staff who daily give of themselves so selflessly to nurture our young people. And the final third belongs to the more than one million County residents, who currently dedicate over 53% of the County’s budget to FCPS. All of these stakeholders pay close attention to what the school system is doing and deserve a voice that is genuinely solicited, heard and acted upon. Regarding more specifically the role of parents, I believe that they should, among other things, have additional, more direct representation on the Board, via a non-voting seat, allocated through the PTAs. Our teachers/staff should also have a non-voting seat on the Board, allocated through the FEA and FCFT. The input that would flow from the individuals holding those two additional seats, from time to time, would not only be substantively very useful but, also and, perhaps just as importantly, would create a dramatically increased sense of engagement and ownership in the decisions that the Board makes.
School start time is an issue that has not been addressed in some time. Will you seriously consider pushing the starting time of our high schools back? Why or why not?
I support later school start times for middle and high school students with an optimal start time of 8:15 am or later. No one disputes that research confirms a direct correlation between increased sleep and optimized school performance, increased alertness, reduced absenteeism, lowered drop-out rates and improved health for adolescents. For years, FCPS and its consultants have expended much time and money grappling with how best to implement a later school start time and also limit transportation costs. Now, FCPS unfortunately is expending energy attempting to dispute community-wide support for adjusting the start time -- as FCPS’s spokesperson Mr. Paul Regnier claims that the controls on the Superintendent’s recent survey were insufficient to confirm support for later start times. (More likely, in my view, is that the outcome showing continued broad public support for later school start times did not comport with FCPS’s hoped-for outcome.) It is time to fully present several bell schedule options and their associated costs, so our community’s authentic input (that of families, teachers, FCPS support staff and other stakeholders) can be factored into the Board’s final decision.
Do you support video surveillance in the county’s high schools? To what extent?
I have grave concerns about the use of video surveillance cameras in our schools and would only consider such use in very limited instances where there is a pattern of misconduct and harm, or damage could be reasonably expected to occur in areas not routinely patrolled by school staff. I believe repeated instances of disorderly conduct or property damage are generally more reflective of an ineffective school administration leadership climate. In fact, at a recent informal gathering with a half dozen retired FCPS principals, they strongly agreed with me when I made that observation. I understand our students have a lesser expectation of privacy in our public schools and, as such, a lower standard of reasonable suspicion, instead of probable cause, suffices for school administrators to search or question our students in the interest of maintaining good order and discipline within our schools. However, I question the efficacy of subjecting every student to unfettered video camera surveillance within our schools and believe doing so moves our school learning environment toward a police state, which clearly is problematic. I am concerned about the citizenship messaging and values FCPS would thereby impart to our students. What question should our students be encouraged to ask themselves: “Is it morally appropriate to behave as I do?” Or: “Is it necessary to regulate my behavior because it is subject to surveillance at this particular time and location?”