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.

November 3, 2015 


6 Responses to “Contested School Board Race is Rough and Tumble”

  1. Dale Walton on November 3rd, 2015 2:54 am

    No incumbent deserves re-election. We should thank them for their service. But, I have seen and observed enough to make this an easy decision for me. Their lack of oversight when it came to the Mount Daniel project which is embarrassing and costing taxpayers money that they certainly cannot afford given our high tax rate, their okaying things like Apple watches which again we surely cannot afford, their resistance to providing key information, cost overruns, allowing the superintendent to act on matters the way she wants to including her relationship with teachers as has been reported which has created a culture of fear, etc., etc. are enough for me to again say we need change. And just as important, we do not need to replace these incumbents with folks who have the same mindset. Once again, when you go into that voter’s booth tomorrow, think about this and vote for change.

  2. Lou Mauro on November 3rd, 2015 3:40 am

    There is a very important article by an anonymous teacher in the Falls Church Post. Just a couple of quotes. “…when concerns…are brought to leadership we hear, ‘Your concerns have been heard, but this is what we are doing.’” And “Isn’t there anyone that will talk to the superintendent, school board, Central Office, someone who can make a difference? Teachers have seen retribution for doing so and are reluctant to speak, so I will, albeit anonymously.” Read it. And then the comment by Tip of the iceberg, who also appears to be a teacher commenting anonymously. And then vote for Kaye, Kutchma and Smerdon.

  3. Joe Green, Falls Church on November 3rd, 2015 2:29 pm

    This article disappoints in not providing any information on the positions of other candidates.

    If you are looking for someone who will stand up to Toni Jones and challenge the system, while pursuing and maintaining its excellence, vote for Phil Reitinger. He has the knowledge, skills, and temperament to do the job effectively and in a dignified manner.

  4. Another FCC resident on November 3rd, 2015 2:55 pm

    I absolutely agree on Phil Reitinger. To me, he seems the most balanced (i.e. won’t assume everything is wrong, but when something is wrong, will work to address it). I agree also about the temperament. Good luck to Phil, and all the candidates today!

  5. John Leimone on November 3rd, 2015 5:35 pm

    I disagree with framing the issue as the money the schools receive vs. the tax rate.
    The underlying issue is the continual squeeze on resources (including an insufficient level of City staff) to provide an adequate level of nonschool services to our rapidly growing population, notwithstanding high and rising tax rates, because of an unquestioned priority always assigned to school system requests. It is an issue of fairness to those who do not have children in the school system.

    The important subtext is that the school system is being used as a reason for, and is very actively complicit in, activities fostering the approval of large development projects. These projects represent the dominant source of the large recent increase in the City’s population, whose impact on the long run level of City services and infrastructure are not being properly measured by the Fiscal Model used by the City to evaluate such projects. The biases in this model, which appear to understate the costs and thus overstate the net revenues from these projects was apparent in the truncated EDA-sponsored discussion with the consultants who have produced this model for the City this past Monday night, November 1. City staff have committed to posting the video of this meeting later this week.

  6. FCGirl on November 3rd, 2015 10:33 pm

    Thank you Mr. Leimone for your cogent understanding of the subtext underlying the issues at hand. The development initiatives in this city (MUDs in particular) are a major theme currently, and there are a few others I won’t go into here. But this I can say: There is a subterfuged culture of silence, coercion, and collusion in our city government in many quarters. This publication is not helping.

    It is a total misnomer to describe those persons who are asking excellent questions about development initiatives and the models used to justify projects that are at the center of most conflicts in the city today as being “anti-development”. We are not. I can not say that enough. For the record, once again, we are not anti-development.

    But speaking for myself, I am very much against foolish, badly researched, unaesthetic, population exploding development that cuold possibly bankrupt our city (and this concern is a taboo topic as far as our government is concerned). Those who desire a moratorium on futher development are not against development at all. The moratorium is presented as a temporary measure to better assess all the justifications for all the projects that are being enthusiastically “sold” to the residents by our government. Some very smart people are asking very intelligent and grounded questions, and they are not getting good answers. Until they do, objections to more development will continue unabated.

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