It looks as though it will be a quiet summer politically for Fairfax County School Board members.
After three years of new faces as it moved from Republican to Democratic hands, the School Board is poised for a bit of status quo in this year's round of appointments.
All four incumbent board members, whose terms expire June 30, will be reappointed for another two years on Monday, the first time membership has remained constant since Board of Supervisors Chairman Audrey Moore and other Democrats were swept into office in 1987. Since then, Moore and other Democrats have slowly replaced Republican-appointed members with their own choices, and these members now control the School Board 8 to 2.
Three of those who will be reappointed Monday faced no opposition: Laura I. McDowall, who has represented the Annandale District on the board since 1982 and now serves as vice chairman; Anthony Cardinale, who has represented the Springfield District since 1984; and Letty A. Fleetwood, who has represented the Providence District since 1986.
The fourth, Armando M. Rodriguez, appointed in 1988 to represent the Mount Vernon District, was challenged by local PTA leader Joe Brockert. But Supervisor Gerald Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) informed both candidates last week that he will keep Rodriguez.
School Board members serve staggered two-year terms and are paid $8,000 a year. The terms of the six other members expire next summer.
Rodriguez, the first Hispanic to serve on the board, has emerged as a vocal spokesman for the county's growing Hispanic community, focusing new attention on language and achievement issues that he believes were sometimes overlooked. Hispanic students represented 1.5 percent of school enrollment in 1978, but grew to 4.8 percent in 1988 and are projected to reach 8.5 percent by 1998.
On the board, Rodriguez has remained something of an enigma, a swing vote no one dares predict before the noses are counted.
But he has proved decisive on occasion, such as the time last year when he torpedoed Superintendent Robert R. Spillane's nomination for the area superintendent overseeing Mount Vernon, the first time any board member had denied the superintendent his choice for a key position.
However, there has been grumbling among some parents and others who believe he has not strongly represented his district and has not applied himself aggressively to the job.
"I'm tired of being ignored out here," said Nancy Dolansky, a parent-activist from Newington Forest. "I don't think Mr. Rodriguez could even find Newington Forest Elementary School."
Brockert, the Newington Forest PTA president who also won support from the Fairfax Education Association, said the board has been unresponsive to parents. "Everyone assumes that parental concern is hysteria or unfounded," he said.
Rodriguez, a longtime educator who has been a college president and assistant federal education commissioner, has made clear from the start that he does not care for the long, sometimes windy evening committee meetings the board holds as frequently as twice a week. He has made a habit of getting up and walking out at 10 p.m. on the dot, whether the meeting is over or not, which has led some parents to question his commitment.
Moreover, during the recent hearings on this fall's bond referendum, he proposed adding renovations for two high schools from his district, West Potomac and Mount Vernon, but did little lobbying ahead of time and had not secured a firm cost estimate from school staff before the vote.
Though the motion was considered perfunctory and doomed from the start because of money concerns (it lost on a 9 to 1 vote), some school advocates were irked that he was not more aggressive.
In an interview this week, Rodriguez said he agrees with some of the criticisms, acknowledging that he has not spent as much time on the job or paid as much attention to district concerns as he should.
Now that he has relinquished the presidency of United Community Ministries, he pledged to devote more time. "It isn't that I don't want to, it's just that that's the way the ball bounces and hopefully it'll bounce a different way next time," he said.
Student Board Member
The only new face on the board's dais in the auditorium of Luther Jackson Intermediate School beginning July 1 will be that of Tim Nee, a senior at W.T. Woodson High School who will succeed Carl R. Kugler as student representative.
Nee was elected at a daylong convention of student leaders last month. Kugler graduated from Woodson last week and plans to attend the University of Virginia this fall. Nee managed Kugler's successful convention campaign last year.
The student representative serves a one-year term and has no vote, but has periodically used the platform effectively to influence issues affecting students.
Elementary Schools Named
The two new elementary schools that will open during the 1990-91 academic year have been given official names. The school at the Centre Ridge site in Centreville has been dubbed Centre Ridge, and the building at the Poplar Tree site in Chantilly has been christened Poplar Tree.
Once again board member McDowall insisted that schools shouldn't be named for developments and suggested that Centre Ridge instead be called Lane's Mill, after a Revolutionary War-era family that lived there. She got just one other vote last week as her motion was shot down; board member Anthony T. Lane (Lee) said Lane's Mill "has a nice ring to it."
None of those names, though, can compare with the one thrown out by a youngster at a community meeting held to name Poplar Tree. Showing creativity that often eludes adults, the child declared that the new school should be called Piglet Elementary, after Winnie the Pooh's friend. That idea actually got 10 votes from the assembled parents.
It's an annual rite as sure as the coming of proms and graduation: Every June when the School Board prepares to head to Fredericksburg for a four-day retreat, members resolve that this will be the year they cut down on the number of priorities they list for the coming school year.
And just as sure as the election of prom queens and kings, School Board members argue and argue and argue and finally give up. Last year the board emerged with 12 priorities. This year's tally: 14.