Fairfax County Republicans, in a move that reflects the increasing political role being played by members of the county school board, are planning a major direct mail campaign, charging that Democrat gubernatorial candidate Gerald L. Baliles wants too much control over local school systems.
They are challenging a Baliles proposal that might require local school boards to spend any additional state money appropriated for teachers' salaries on teachers' salaries. A number of school boards in Virginia, including Fairfax, have not passed along the full amount of increased state teacher funds, saying their schools have higher priorities.
Baliles, appearing yesterday at Thomas Jefferson High School in Annandale, defended his proposal and said that school boards still would fix salaries. But, he said, "When the General Assembly is committed to raising teacher salaries, it has the right to expect the funds be used for that purpose and not for landscaping" or other needs.
The plan to distribute the GOP letter -- signed by six members of the Fairfax County School Board -- is the latest in a series of unusually partisan steps by local school board members in Fairfax.
The leaflet, which is to be distributed throughout the county reads: "The issue is clear -- should control of Northern Virginia schools remain in the hands of local people or be usurped by the state government? We believe local control is part of our educational success, and that is why we support Wyatt Durrette for governor."
It is signed by 27 Northern Virginia Republicans, including all six members of the Fairfax School Board who were appointed by Republicans on the County Board of Supervisors.
County board Chairman John F. Herrity, one of the Republicans signing the letter, said the subject is "the paramount issue in the campaign as far as I'm concerned." He called the Baliles position "a historical departure from local control."
Baliles, noting there are forecasts of a national teacher shortage, especially in math and science, said higher pay may be the answer. "If you want good teachers, you have to pay them," he said in Annandale.
Democrats say Republicans made the first political move involving school board members Sept. 6, when three GOP-appointed Fairfax County School Board members -- Mary E. Collier, Joy Korologos and Anthony Cardinale -- joined Durrette in an appearance at West Springfield High School. "That was a new step, in my judgment," said Carmin (Chuck) Caputo, a former Fairfax County School Board member who was a Democratic appointee.
Five days later, 30 Northern Virginia current and former school board members, most of them Democrats, endorsed Baliles' stand in favor of full state funding of the "standards of quality," the state-mandated guidelines for school staffing, curriculum and programs. Their names were announced by Fairfax Supervisor Audrey Moore (D-Annandale) at a news conference in her office.
Yesterday morning, Moore, her School Board appointee, Laura I. McDowall, and Caputo joined Baliles in his appearance at Thomas Jefferson High School.
Fairfax School Board members are not political neophytes; all 10 are appointed by supervisors, often because of their past political roles. Among others, Collier campaigned for Supervisor Nancy Falck, Kohann H. Whitney ran Supervisor Martha Pennino's campaign and Katherine Hanley is a former district Democratic chairman.
"You don't get appointed to a School Board unless you have had some specific activism or have worked on behalf of, say, in this case, a supervisor," Caputo said.
Many officials said there is nothing wrong with political involvement by School Board members. "I don't think people lose their right to citizenship because they join a board or commission," said Supervisor Thomas M. Davis (R-Mason), a top Durrette campaign aide in Northern Virginia.
Supervisor James M. Scott (D-Providence) called the leaflet outrageous and said the Republicans are trying to make the School Board a "political football."
"This is the first time since I've been on the board that a majority of the Board of Supervisors or the School Board have tried to use the School Board for partisan political purposes," Scott said.