Some members of Fairfax County's black community are upset over what they say is a Republican effort to oust four-term School Board member Robert E. Frye and are rallying to his support.
Frye, a Democratic appointee, is a target because of party politics and last month's School Board vote to shut Fort Hunt High School, community leaders and members of the Board of Supervisors say.
The 48-year-old Frye has served on the board since 1978. His term expires in June and any reappointment to the seat traditionally held by minorities will be subject to approval of a Republican-controlled Board of Supervisors.
Observers say that the Republican supervisors' displeasure with Frye is based on Frye's decision last month to join the mostly Democratic School Board in voting 6 to 4 to shut Fort Hunt, which is located in a predominantly Republican community. Extreme eastern Fairfax is facing the problem of declining enrollments.
Martha V. Pennino (D-Centreville), vice chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said she plans to nominate Frye for a fifth term at the board's April 29 meeting. However, she said, "I'm not sure I've got the votes" from the board. The Board of Supervisors changed last fall from a Democratic to a Republican majority for the first time in more than a century.
Frye yesterday described himself as "frustrated" but "optimistic." He said he plans to speak with supervisors individually before the April 29 vote.
School Board Chairman Mary E. Collier, a Republican appointee from the Dranesville District who also voted with the Democrats, last week survived an unprecedented challenge to her job by two county supervisors from her own political party. But county officials say Frye's position is more tenuous, in part because he is an at-large representative.
"Bob Frye is a good guy, and he's been a good member of the School Board," Supervisor Thomas M. Davis III (R-Mason) said, "and if this came up in a year when Fort Hunt wasn't involved, I think he may have been able to survive." However, Davis said that the supervisors are so partisan on the Fort Hunt vote that "there is going to be a trophy on this thing."
Board of Supervisors Chairman John F. Herrity, a Republican, says the Frye vote "will not have anything to do with the Fort Hunt incident one way or the other."
Herrity said supervisors "are going to appoint a black to the School Board." He said that fears that the Frye seat, traditionally held by a minority, will not go to a black were ill-founded.
But Pennino called all school appointments "strictly political," and Davis predicted that Republicans will "stay solid" against Frye's reappointment.
Davis said the Republicans naturally want to control Frye's seat, now that they have the power to do so. "You've changed hands here, so I don't know why they [Democrats] go around pouting, expecting everything to stay the same," he said.
Mentioned as one of several minority contenders for Frye's seat is Republican Thomas Wilkins, staff director for the District's Committee for Purchase of Products and Services.
Although some members of the black community have criticized Frye in the past for not being more aggressive, his supporters say he has done an excellent job of representing blacks and other Fairfax residents. They praised him especially for his efforts to improve minority achievement, including his push to get the School Board to commit $4.5 million to that goal.
"With that kind of momentum already ongoing, I don't think it should be disrupted for mere politics," said Clint Austin, treasurer of the Northern Virginia Baptist Association and president of Fairfax's Gum Springs Historical Society. "The school children are much too precious to jeopardize for something like this."
Others in the community said they plan to write letters on Frye's behalf, and to speak individually with the county supervisors.
Frye, who is director of the hazard analysis division of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, said yesterday he was aware his reappointment could be in jeopardy last November, when the GOP won control of the Board of Supervisors. "I was told at the time . . . 'That's the end of you.' "