On election day, voters in Loudoun County brought dramatic change to the county School Board — electing a majority of new candidates and retiring three incumbents — in balloting shaped in part by local political action committees that aimed to increase public interest in the often-overlooked races.
In two especially close contests, School Board Chairman John Stevens (Potomac) lost his seat to newcomer Debbie Rose (Algonkian), and Vice Chairman Priscilla Godfrey was defeated by second-grade teacher Jill Turgeon in the Blue Ridge district.
Only three incumbents kept their seats: Thomas E. Reed (At Large) secured his fourth term; Jennifer Bergel (Catoctin) defeated challenger Paul Arias; and Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) ran unopposed. They will be joined next year by six new faces on the dais.
The new board members will face an array of challenging issues in their terms, including the rising costs of supporting a rapidly growing student population, and the often controversial process of finding suitable sites for new schools.
Two new political action committees — Western Loudoun Schools and Educate Loudoun — were formed this year to help draw the community’s attention to the contests. The PACs tried to make the case that the issues before the board have a profound effect on all county taxpayers, not just on the families of students and educators.
In the wake of Tuesday’s election, members of both PACs said they were pleased with the outcome. Five of the seven candidates endorsed by Western Loudoun Schools were elected, and three of the candidates supported by Educate Loudoun won seats.
Both PACs have emphasized a need for greater transparency and accountability in the budget and school-site selection processes, as well as the importance of effective teamwork and creative thinking, and they endorsed candidates who shared those views.
Mark Foster, spokesman for Western Loudoun Schools, said the group was “pleased overall” with the outcome of the School Board contests.
“There were a couple of other folks we would have liked to have seen win, as well,” he said — referring to incumbent Bob Ohneiser (Broad Run) and Catoctin candidate Paul Arias — “but five gives us a very comfortable margin in terms of a voting bloc.”
One of the most immediate issues that Western Loudoun Schools members will focus on is finding a location for a new high school, Foster said.
“There’ve been strong hopes that the next one would be in the Lovettsville area, so students wouldn’t have to commute across the Route 9 corridor,” Foster said. “That’s one issue that we’re going to be very active in.”
Kirsten Langhorne, founding member of Educate Loudoun, said she thought that the group succeeded primarily at encouraging community members to focus on the School Board races, one of the PAC’s primary goals.
“We are pleased with the dialogue that went on before the election, and feel like the reforms that we’re putting forth became part of the conversation,” Langhorne said. “I think we did achieve some of what we were trying to accomplish just by making the election itself more visible.”
School Board races have historically involved fewer choices for voters. In the 2007 election, four candidates ran unopposed. This year, only one candidate — Sterling incumbent Sheridan — was without a challenger.
Broad Run candidate Kevin Kuesters also faced no opposition until late in the election cycle, when former high school teacher Joy Maloney launched a write-in campaign after Kuesters was arrested Oct. 4 and charged with assaulting his wife. The charge was dismissed Oct. 31, and Kuesters defeated Maloney soundly, with 66 percent of the vote.
With the election behind them, members of Educate Loudoun and Western Loudoun Schools expressed their intent to remain actively involved in county school issues.
“We are going to be sitting down in the next couple of weeks and discussing our long-range plans,” Langhorne said. “We intend to stay involved and over the next few years . . . we see ourselves supporting the reforms we were advocating by doing research and presenting information.”
Foster said that members of Western Loudoun Schools were encouraged by their newly elected candidates to remain active even after the election cycle.
“We’re very keen to stay actively engaged, and, frankly, we see this as community service — stepping up to the plate and being available as an ongoing resource, and helping wherever we can,” he said.