School Board Member Brings Big Agenda

By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 11, 2007

The character of the Prince William County School Board isn't going to change much. In last week's election, seven of eight members ran for reelection -- six were unopposed.

Gilbert A. Trenum Jr., a systems engineer for a defense contractor, won a seat on what has become an increasingly scrutinized board. He defeated D.R. "Desi" Arnaiz, a technology company owner, to win the Brentsville District seat Tuesday with 64 percent of the vote. He begins a four-year term in January.

In an interview last week, Trenum outlined several initiatives and issues he wants to explore to improve Prince William's school system, the second-largest in Virginia. He also criticized the current School Board and pointed to ways that Superintendent Steven L. Walts could improve his job.

Trenum said he thinks the School Board's next budget should be focused on ensuring that new-school construction does not get delayed, as it has recently. He thinks crowding is the school system's biggest problem and must be fixed to improve student learning and the overall teaching environment.

"The new Kettle Run High School site was originally scheduled to open in 2010, but it got delayed until 2011. The county has been experiencing explosive growth, but the infrastructure hasn't been able to keep up," said Trenum, whose three sons are in the school system. "My oldest son will never have gone to a high school that wasn't overcrowded."

A second major initiative the School Board should consider is merit pay for teachers, Trenum said. Although he is not sure Prince William needs to match the higher teacher salaries in Fairfax or Loudoun counties, Trenum said he is interested in exploring ways to "reward especially effective teachers . . . in some kind of way, financially."

He wants to talk to teachers about what they think would be the most fair evaluation system, before making any official recommendations, he said.

"They're the ones in the trenches with the kids, so they know the areas that are the most difficult," he said.

Trenum also sounded off on the budget process, saying he will push for restraint because of reduced county property assessments. He said he doesn't know which areas he would cut. But he did reflect on last year's tense negotiations, criticizing the School Board for quickly launching a costly full-day kindergarten, instead of taking a more gradual approach.

"There's nothing negative about [the program], but it certainly made budget discussions more difficult last spring," he said. "I would have liked to have seen it phased in more."

He said the school system can save money by reducing the number of staff members in the central office. Since becoming superintendent, Walts has expanded the number of administrators, which has yielded both advocates, who think communication has improved, and detractors, who think the funds are better spent in the classroom.

"I don't have a particular position that I'm targeting," Trenum said. "But I do feel that there are opportunities for saving in the central administration."

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