Contested School Board Race is Rough and Tumble
By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
November 2, 2015
City residents have lamented in the past that there was no competition for seats on the school board. In previous elections, there were sometimes four candidates for four slots. That’s not the case this year; there’s a veritable embarrassment of riches this time around, with eight candidates seeking three spots.
The downside is that the race also has become personal and nasty.
There are two incumbents running for re-election: Chairman Justin Castillo and Kieran Sharpe. As incumbents, a vote for them generally would reflect a view that the board is doing a good job.
Then there’s the change candidates.
In theory, anyone who’s not an incumbent is a change candidate to some extent, but the clearest change candidates appear to be Becky Smerdon and Alison Kutchma. Dr. Smerdon has joined three City residents in a lawsuit asking the Arlington County Circuit Court to disallow some changes the board recently made to a special education advisory committee, of which Ms. Smerdon is chair. Ms. Kutchma has not signed on to the suit, which the two women prefer to call a “petition,” but has indicated her support for it. Dr. Smerdon also has sent a letter to the school board asking them to discipline Superintendent Toni Jones over a related special education advisory committee issue.
Ms. Kutchma, for her part, has sent a letter to the Falls Church City Council outlining places where the schools could spend less money. The expensive City schools have long been a fault line in City politics, with critics suggesting less money be spent on the schools in order to hold down the tax rate. Ms. Kutchma’s cuts total $1.3 million, and include reducing the salaries of Dr. Jones and other top administrators by 20 percent. She also would eliminate some positions entirely, including communications director John Brett, a community outreach director, and two George Mason counselors. She would add three English as a second language teachers with some of the savings.
Whatever one thinks of the competing views among the candidates, one certainly can’t say they’re all the same. There are some clear choices, no matter which side you’re on.
Unfortunately, the heated and divisive issues surrounding the schools has led to some unpleasantness, with Mr. Castillo reporting recently that he received what could be interpreted as a threat at a recent forum, when one resident approached him and said he’d be “better off dead.” Mr. Castillo told the Times he did not perceive it as a threat, however.
And there’s still more candidates in the race: Erin Gill, Mark Kaye, Jacob Radcliff, and Phil Reitinger. One wonders if all the candidates were able to get their messages out.
By Stephen Siegel
November 3, 2015