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The At-Large Race: Lolita Mancheno-Smoak

One in a series of at-large school board candidates responses to reader questions

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 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. 6: Lolita Mancheno-Smoak

Oct 7: Ryan McElveen

Oct. 10: Ilryong Moon

Oct. 11: Steve Stuban

Oct. 12: Ted Velkoff

Today, Lolita Mancheno-Smoak

Is FCPS underfunded, overfunded, or properly funded at the current level?

It may not be “properly” funded at the current level due to a myriad of factors, as it depends on one’s perspective. FCPS’s $2.2 billion budget consumes 53 cents of every county tax dollar. The 75% of county residents, who do not have children in the public schools, may feel the schools receive a sufficient share of county resources. Whereas, parents with children in crowded classrooms, may feel differently. Currently FCPS does not get a fair share of state funding from Richmond, as it receives about 20% of its funding from the state while other school districts in Virginia receive about 70%. The state education funding formula (Local Composite Index) takes into account gross local wealth factors, but doesn’t factor in that many of Fairfax County’s growing urban poor are children enrolled in the public schools.I will fight for a greater share of state funding from Richmond.  

Furthermore, there has not been a baseline cost assessment of the efficacy and efficiency of major programs or functions over the past ten years against their originally established performance metrics in order to objectively determine if desired results have been achieved for the level of investment. This fundamental void in financial accountability and oversight beckons the immediate need for an independent, FCPS audit function that reports directly to the School Board with the ability to conduct program evaluations and financial audits that may uncover alternative ways to reallocate funds for improved results.

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?

First, we must acknowledge that the demographic make-up of Fairfax County is changing dramatically; there is a significant growing immigrant population that needs to be recognized with the increase in public school enrollments. The School Board’s responsibility is to ensure that there is equitable distribution of resources across the system so that every student receives the same caliber of excellent educational services and learning opportunities regardless of their individual socio-economic status. As members of the School Board we must be aware that in this highly affluent county there are a growing number of families in which both parents or a single parent must work multiple jobs in order to just subsist and therefore have limitations on discretionary income. These income limitations and parental time constraints make it difficult for some students to participate in band and athletic programs. This situation is ripe for businesses, non-profits, and faith-based organizations to partner with the FCPS and explore innovative ways to facilitate access to music, arts, and athletics without over dependence on discretionary family income and by doing so, as a community, mitigating the actual and perceived disparities amongst all children. 

How does the School Board and Board of Supervisors plan to help the most needy schools, as its budget continues to shrink?

As the budget becomes tighter, it is imperative that the School Board establish an independent audit function reporting directly to the School Board to help identify operational efficiencies and opportunities for more effective reallocation of funding to yield better service system wide.

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?

Trust is a very personal human relationship that requires time to build and it would be disrespectful on my part to the highly professional staff to make an attribution without having personally engaged with them. However, the issue is that the School Board does not currently have the ability to obtain independent expert advice without filters, as central office staff is bound to their respective chain of command and cannot serve two masters without conflict. The School Board must maintain its independence and objectivity in order to best execute its fiduciary responsibility and oversight; however, it is hindered by the potential lack of neutrality with the current arrangement of loaned shared staff support.

What role do you think parents should play in setting policy and effecting change in our school system?  

Parents should play a very active role in policy-making, as FCPS is a “community-owned school system” that is supported by county tax dollars contributed by parents and taxpayers.

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?

25% School Board & central office leadership

25% Parents & parent advocacy groups

25% Teachers & school system employees

15% Board of Supervisors & government regulators

10% Community stakeholders 

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?

Yes.

Why or why not?

Empirical data indicates healthier school start times for HS students to be within the range of 8:30am to 9:15am to best align with teenagers' Circadian rhythm. I am supportive of a school start time that provides the best opportunity for the student's mind to be fully alert while driving to school and at maximum performance in first block classes. However, this is an issue that needs comprehensive evaluation and full community engagement to ensure a feasible solution that addresses critical factors such as athletic schedules, bus routes, work schedules, etc. 

Do you support video surveillance in the county’s high schools?  

No.

To what extent?  

I believe that video surveillance is in contradiction to the progress being made with establishing a restorative, educational, and therapeutic discipline process within FCPS.

Laurie Dodd October 07, 2011 at 11:37 AM
Lolita has endorsements from the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, the Fairfax County Education Association, and Governor Bob McDonnell, and her sensible answers to these questions show why she deserves their support. I hope she will be a member of the new school board brought in by the coming election!
Laurie Dodd October 07, 2011 at 12:46 PM
I should have mentioned Lolita's endrosement by Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform, a group of parents dissatisfied with the past disciplinary practices of FCPS.
Molly Field October 08, 2011 at 03:01 PM
Does Lolita have children still enrolled and who will continue to be enrolled in FCPS during her proposed term on the FCPS school board?
Lolita Mancheno-Smoak October 08, 2011 at 03:51 PM
Dear Molly Field, No, I have no children in the Fairfax County Public School system. All my step children are grown-up: two of my sons have families of their own and the twins are still single. I have four grandchildren, one boy and three girls, all living in Florida. Thank you for taking the time to read all the candidates' responses, as your consideration is an honor. Lolita
Will Radle October 08, 2011 at 04:12 PM
Our community remains committed to providing our nation's best even as the great majority of Fairfax County households, about 80 percent, do not have children in our public schools.
Kathy Keith October 08, 2011 at 05:00 PM
I think that Sheree Brown-Kaplan is the only "at large" candidate with children currently in the FCPS system. In my opinion, having a child in the school system is not a requirement--or even an advantage to be on the School Board. Far more important is the ability to understand and analyze volumes of information and data and make rational and informed decisions. FCPS is far more than one school or pyramid. Martina Hone has been an extremely effective member (although she frequently is battling the lack of common sense among other members). She has no children in the system. I would expect that any member understand that, while he/she represents the taxpayers, that the first priority is the student. The goal should be to balance the two.
Janet October 09, 2011 at 11:05 AM
Impressive information. Thank you.
Sheree Brown-Kaplan October 09, 2011 at 02:19 PM
Kathy, You are correct. I have two children in FCPS -- one in elementary and one in high school. I believe having children in FCPS is an advantage because it offers a consumers perspective of the education system. It also has propelled me to be "in the trenches" on many school issues over the past 13 years through my work in PTA at the local and county levels. In addition, both of my children have disabilities and receive special education services. One of the reasons I am running is to ensure at least one School Board member understands special education and the needs of students with disabilities. We are losing the only current member with that understanding due to retirement and, with my knowledge of the federal and state mandates which require special education services, I hope to fill this void. A successful outcome for every child, regardless of ability, must be our first priority. With today's tight budgets, we need one School Board member who can offer expert oversight to special education programming -- which makes up almost 20% of the budget and amounts to $408 million -- and ensure these funds are used efficiently and effectively to offer students with disabilities positive outcomes. I believe "no child left behind" is more than a slogan; it's a public mandate. Sheree Brown-Kaplan Candidate, School Board At-Large
Marta D. Saltus October 10, 2011 at 02:35 AM
I think an At-Large candidate should not be driven by a single issue, that would be a disservice to the totality of the student population.
Laurie Dodd October 10, 2011 at 03:25 AM
I do not believe Sheree Brown-Kaplan would have gotten the endorsement of the Fairfax Education Association (of teachers) or the Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform Organization (mainly parents) if she were truly a single-issue candidate. One glance at her website shows that her top priorities include ensuring an audit of the FCPS budget and increasing transparency in school board decisions. These issues are important to all residents of Fairfax.
Marta D. Saltus October 11, 2011 at 10:53 PM
We can add one more to the list: the Fairfax County Coalition of Advocates for Public Schools, FairfaxCAPS, has endorsed Lolita as well! Read responses from all candidates to their questionnaire here: http://fairfaxcaps.netfirms.com/wordpress-act/
Catherine October 13, 2011 at 02:29 PM
Bright lady! Look forward to seeing her represent our community. A review of her background shows she bring a lot to the table that will benefit our community - teaching experience, multiple engineering degrees, significant budget oversight, extensive ties to the community with CRISISLink & HACAN - and she's a dual language speaker. What a role model. Good Luck Lolita!
Marta D. Saltus October 23, 2011 at 04:59 PM
"Ms. Mancheno-Smoak is one of the so-called reform candidates, but, unlike some of her counterparts who seem intent on refighting past controversies, she refreshingly is focused on the challenges confronting students. Foremost is her interest in the needs of at-risk students and shrinking the achievement gap, issues that are informed by her work as an educator and her immigrant background."  This is a quote from today's Washington Post, endorsing Lolita Mancheno-Smoak precisely for bringing the skillset and experience to the table to address the at-risk student population along the route 1 corridor. Congratulations, Lolita, you have my full support and that of many, many Mt. Vernon parents and students that belong to these communities and are working tirelessly to make a difference in their lives and education with the goal to ensure every students' success!!!

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