In Woodbridge, incumbent Steven Keen said he wants to keep the School Board going in the same direction it has been moving in since he was elected. His challenger, Dennis C. Stewart, wants to restore some of the same programs that were in place when he was appointed.
Keen, 44, a retail manager, sees fiscal responsibility and cordial relations with the Prince William Board of County Supervisors as a few of the hallmarks of his term in office. He worked against a meals tax for county schools and said the school administration found a way to renovate some schools and build new ones without levying extra taxes.
"It's just a matter of arranging your priorities," said Keen, who was elected to the board in a 1996 special election. "We have accomplished what the former appointed School Board member [Stewart] said could not be done."
Keen also said he was proud of the five-year budget plan process enacted by the School Board. Having a long-term plan helps when requesting money from the supervisors, Keen said.
Keen has been one of the champions of specialty schools within the districts, which will allow students to travel to out-of-boundary middle and high schools to pursue enrichment on specific subjects such as math or information technology. In addition, a "traditional" school will open in the fall, offering a back-to-basics approach to language arts, math and school discipline.
Keen also notes that he stayed away from endorsements from political parties and unions, saying that would make him beholden to special interests. "I just feel that party politics should not play a part in School Board decisions," he said.
Stewart, 48, a computer specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the school system is using money to build schools at the expense of older schools in his district. He believes the largest portion of money should go to the nuts-and-bolts efforts of bringing older schools up to par, such as enlarging the parking lot at Potomac View Elementary or building additions and eliminating trailers.
"I want to modernize. I don't just want to renovate," Stewart said. "The inequities are just horrible between the old schools and the new schools."
Stewart would also like to see the board pay more attention to violence prevention programs. He praised a program that was in place when he was an appointed board member, from 1992 to 1996, that brought behavioral specialists to the middle school. The program was paid for by a federal grant, but when the grant ended, the program lapsed.
"It was a great investment," Stewart said. "That's why I want it back."
Stewart has received endorsement from teachers unions, something Keen shunned. However, his vote is still his own, he said. "Basically, [Keen] is saying that the teachers and the classified employees don't put children first, and that's wrong."