16 Candidates Vying For 7 Contested Seats

By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 1, 2007

Voters will select a school board from among 21 candidates who want the chance to work to narrow the minority achievement gap, streamline the $2.2 billion budget and push back the opening bell for high school students.

All 12 seats are up for election, but incumbents are uncontested in five district races. Three at-large candidates will be elected from a field of eight. Races in the Springfield, Braddock, Hunter Mill and Sully districts are contested.

The board guides the 165,000-student system, the largest in Virginia and 13th-largest nationwide, making decisions on funding and recommendations on curriculum.

The new board will face several tough decisions. The system's plans to study shifting attendance areas in the western part of the county are prompting emotional responses from parents. And the district is considering an overhaul of the transportation system, partly for later high school start times so students can get more sleep.

Superintendent Jack D. Dale anticipates cutting programs or positions in the $2.2 billion budget because county officials predict the housing slump will mean stagnant funding. Three-quarters of school funding comes from the county.

Under Virginia law, school board seats are nonpartisan, but no candidate has won in Fairfax without the backing of a major party. This year, the five unchallenged board members are endorsed by Democrats. Both major parties have endorsed candidates in the contested races.

The current board, majority Democrat-backed, made a point of working to reach a consensus.

Two members are not seeking reelection. Catherine A. Belter (Springfield) is not seeking another term, and Janet S. Oleszek (At Large) is challenging state Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II (R) in the county's District 37.

The uncontested incumbents are Daniel G. Storck (Mount Vernon), Phillip A. Niedzielski-Eichner (Providence), Kaye Kory (Mason), Jane K. Strauss (Dranesville) and Brad Center (Lee).

Here is a closer look at the candidates in contested races:

Braddock District

Elizabeth D. "Liz" Griffith said one of her priorities is improving early childhood education. She advocates partnering with community groups and social service agencies to enlarge preschools, and she supports the expansion of full-day kindergarten. "In order to really leave no child behind, you have to start early," she said. Griffith is endorsed by county Democrats.

Incumbent Judith "Tessie" Wilson, who has the backing of county Republicans, has been on the board since 2000 and supports intensive phonics instruction to help young, struggling readers. "For those populations that are not doing well, we better start trying something else," she said.

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