In the School Board's most contested election, one candidate is the incumbent. Another is a developer campaigning to cut construction expenses. The third is an active parent volunteer.
They are two women and one man in a tight race to represent the Broad Run District on the board, vying for votes in a populous area of new families concerned about the quality of schools.
On Thursday night, the candidates stated their views in a forum at Broad Run High School, which was sponsored by the school's Parent-Teacher-Student Organization. About 35 people came to the school's auditorium to hear the 90-minute debate, among the highest turnouts for this season's School Board debates.
The Broad Run candidates are Susan N. Hembach, the incumbent and a field representative for the Bureau of Labor Statistics; John A. Andrews II, president of the Loudoun chapter of the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association; and Michele N. Zuckerman, president of the Horizon Elementary School PTA.
The questions, compiled by parents, touched on a variety of education issues, including the Standards of Learning tests, teacher salaries, special education funding and budget constraints.
Zuckerman, 38, said she would fight for the "best educated, most highly qualified teaching staff." Salary scales must be increased for inexperienced as well as veteran teachers to prevent them from taking jobs at Fairfax County schools and in other higher-paying districts, she said.
"We cannot continue to serve as a training ground for other jurisdictions," Zuckerman said.
But she said that if she had to cut the school budget, she would consider freezing salaries of administrators and reducing their travel and training expenses.
Andrews, 38, a residential developer who has built homes in Ashburn, touted his professional skills as a developer as his qualifications for School Board. He said he is the only candidate with a "10-year track record of working with the Board of Supervisors."
During the forum and afterward, Andrews pledged to look continually for ways to reduce the cost of new schools and said he is convinced he could shave expenses 7 percent to 12 percent. He did not elaborate on what he would cut specifically.
Hembach, 41, appointed in June to fill a School Board vacancy, said she could not recommend any reductions in the board's spending proposal. She argued that the Board of Supervisors has cut essential dollars needed to pay teachers and expand the curriculum.
"It's time to fully fund our budget," she said.
In response to a question about how many schools in their district the candidates have visited, Hembach was the only one who said she had been to every campus.
Also participating in the forum were candidates for the at-large seat--incumbent Wendell T. Fisher and challenger Thomas E. "Tom" Reed. Joseph W. Vogric (Dulles), the School Board chairman who is running for reelection unopposed, also was invited to appear. A conflict with his job prevented him at the last minute from attending, said Kathleen Cowley, vice president of the Broad Run PTSO.
Hembach, Fisher and Vogric have been endorsed by PLANS (Parents Love A Neighborhood School) and the Loudoun Education Association's political action committee.
Fisher, 45, lauded the school system for its efforts to improve SOL scores. He said school officials have devised remediation programs and used summer school to boost student achievement on the state-mandated exams. "It is an ongoing issue," he said.
Reed, 43, is the only candidate to support vouchers, a concept that uses public dollars to allow children to attend private schools. "Why shouldn't parents have a choice?" Reed said. The other four candidates said they oppose the practice; some added that vouchers siphon badly needed funds from public education.