Commenting on a Washington Post article about the Fairfax County school board race, I quoted candidate Steve Stuban’s statement that school board members need to encourage greater community participation in the governance of Fairfax County Public Schools: “Basically, it’s improving customer service and recognizing that the public is the paying customer.”
The “nonpartisan” rules for school board elections in Fairfax County are a hindrance rather than a help in selecting citizens willing to serve on the school board. This label was used to help sell the idea of elected school boards. It was a classic bait and switch scheme.
Under Virginia election law, the political parties are not allowed to have primaries or conventions to select candidates for endorsement in nonpartisan races. Primaries and conventions are the only way the average voter can participate in selecting which candidates should be endorsed
It is impractical to run as an independent candidate in an election where the parties endorse candidates. So the “nonpartisan” school board elections give undue influence to the local political committees.
Some local officials have cited the ability of federal employees to run in a “nonpartisan” election as an advantage of the current system. With every school board election, the partisan nature of the elections becomes more entrenched.
At a meeting held July 20, the Fairfax County Republican Committee selected three candidates from the six who asked for endorsement for at-large seats. Steve Stuban, who is an employee of the Defense Department, was one of the candidates who did not receive an endorsement.
Since Stuban is covered by the Hatch Act, he was not allowed to speak at an earlier meeting where candidates presented their cases to the party members. Erica R. Hendry of the Falls Church, VA Patch reported that Supervisor Pat Herrity said that this may have affected Stuban’s chances with committee members.
“[Not being able to speak] hurt his ability to reach out to the members, and that’s important in votes like this,” Herrity said.
Clearly the current rules are a disadvantage to federal employees interested in getting endorsements for nonpartisan races. If the “nonpartisan” label isn’t actually helpful to federal employees, what is the benefit of having this label applied to school board elections?
One way of giving a fair chance to federal employees would be returning to an appointed school board. Another way would involve changes in state laws. Surely Virginia can come up with a better set of election laws that don’t give undue influence to the local activists in the two main political parties.
(By the way, an earlier version of this article was inadvertently deleted from the website. Sorry for any inconvenience.)
School board member Janie Strauss (Dranesville) told Leslie Perales of the Herndon Patch that she would like to see Fairfax County schools allow for more collaboration in teaching, including teaching across subject matter and grade levels.
I commented that collaboration in teaching was one of the points that Ms. Strauss had made on behalf of the Fairfax County Council of PTAs in 1990. At that time FCCPTA opposed a plan to provide full day Mondays for elementary school students. I posted an excerpt from that testimony and then stated, “It is quite possible for teachers to collaborate even if students have five full days of school. More collaboration without more time for learning is not a worthwhile goal.”
The Hatch Act, which sets limits on political activities of federal workers, has a single sanction for violation of the act–termination.
Joe Davidson wrote an article explaining that D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that, far from a deterrent, the one-size-fits-all penalty of termination has the opposite effect. Agencies are reluctant to report violators “and therefore,” Norton reasoned, “the violations perhaps are encouraged to continue.”
I posted an online comment to this article, saying that the Hatch Act is one of the justifications sometimes cited for “nonpartisan” school board elections in Fairfax County. Everyone knows that the elections are partisan, but continuing to designate them as “nonpartisan” allows federal employees to accept the endorsements of the two political parties.
Steve Stuban, who hopes to receive the Fairfax County Republican Committee’s endorsement for an at-large seat at the school board, could not speak at a recent committee meeting due to restrictions on political activity by his employer, the Department of Defense.
It is wrong for a prospective school board member to have to worry about losing his job if he violates some rule of the Hatch Act. If Fairfax County returned to having an appointed school board it would be easier for federal employees to serve on the school board without complicated posturing as “nonpartisan” beneficiaries of the endorsements of the political parties.