In response to the magnitude of the challenges, Loudoun residents formed two new political action committees — Western Loudoun Schools and Educate Loudoun — to help rally community support for candidates who the groups hope will bring needed changes to the board.
As the end of the election cycle approaches, the organizations have stepped up those efforts, announcing endorsements, sponsoring candidate forums, distributing campaign literature, buying advertisements and preparing sample ballots to hand out at polling sites.
“Educate Loudoun is doing all it can to draw attention to the down-ballot races,” said Allison Dickert, spokeswoman for the group. “Our endorsed candidates have demonstrated impressive campaign organizations, despite the fact that many are first-time candidates.”
Educate Loudoun has $20,000 in its fundraising coffers, Dickert said. Mark Foster, spokesman for Western Loudoun Schools, declined to comment on how much money the committee has raised, but he said the group is in the final stages of determining how the funds will be spent.
Political action committees have helped shape Loudoun elections before, particularly in 2007, when Voters for Loudoun’s Future formed to fervently oppose rapid development and the real estate companies that made sizable donations to pro-growth candidates on the Board of Supervisors. The group raised more than $150,000 and helped propel a majority of slow-growth candidates into office.
Just as the Voters for Loudoun’s Future focused the public’s attention on the controversy of county development, the education PACs formed this year aim to help the public understand the implications of the school system’s significant growing pains. The county school budget is projected to increase substantially as more than 3,000 new students are added each year to already crowded classrooms.
Educate Loudoun has concentrated its efforts on the School Board races, endorsing five candidates so far. Meanwhile, Western Loudoun Schools announced its support of six Board of Supervisors candidates and seven School Board candidates at a forum Oct. 13. Western Loudoun Schools is supporting only one School Board incumbent, at-large candidate Bob Ohneiser.
“We learned the hard way who we could work with, who would listen to us and who wouldn’t,” Foster said, adding that the community was often especially frustrated by the lack of transparency involved in the School Board’s proposals for new school sites. “Several years of trying to work with [the School Board and the Board of Supervisors] led the group to feel that we needed to weigh in on this election cycle.”
The PAC sought out candidates who shared the group’s key objectives, including greater transparency and accountability in the budget and school site selection process, as well as the preservation and expansion of smaller schools at the heart of western Loudoun towns. Too many students take long bus rides outside their communities to attend school, Foster said.
The group also supports the creation of a county inspector general’s office, “so that any issues of potential impropriety or wrongdoing can be further investigated. There’s currently no good place to accomplish that,” Foster said.
Like Educate Loudoun, Western Loudoun Schools has also worked to support candidates it has decided will work together effectively and exchange creative ideas to address familiar problems.
“We’re strictly nonpartisan, and we have endorsed a mixed slate of candidates, which I think speaks to the fact that our group is fiercely driven by our principles,” Foster said.
Both organizations have sought to draw more of the public’s attention to the often-overlooked School Board races, with the goal of encouraging residents to get involved, either by voting or by running for office.
Members of Educate Loudoun noted that Loudoun voters have historically been deprived of choices in the School Board races; four candidates ran unopposed in the 2007 election cycle. This year, just one candidate — Brenda Sheridan in the Sterling district — faces no opposition. Fellow candidate Kevin Kuesters, who was running unopposed in the Broad Run district, found himself in an unexpectedly competitive race after he was arrested Oct. 4 and charged with assaulting his wife, prompting former high school teacher Joy Maloney to launch a write-in campaign.
The Loudoun Education Association, an advocacy organization with a membership of more than 3,000 public school employees, and Western Loudoun Schools have maintained their support of Kuesters despite the charges.
“One of the things the association believes in strongly is a person’s right to due process, and as of this time, that has not occurred for him,” said Sandy Sullivan, president of the LEA.
The LEA has also been focused on supporting its endorsed candidates, which include School Board as well as Board of Supervisors and General Assembly candidates, by sending postcards and newsletters to its members and providing phone banking services for several races, Sullivan said.
“We want to make sure that our folks are hearing from other members, letting them know who we support and reminding them to vote,” she said.
Members of Western Loudoun Schools and Educate Loudoun said that, on Election Day, they will offer sample ballots to voters at polling sites.
“There’s limited time left,” Foster said. “We’re furiously focused here in the homestretch.”
Voters can find out more about Western Loudoun Schools and Educate Loudoun by visiting the committees’ Web sites, www.
westernloudounschools.com and www.educateloudoun.org.