At a time when education has become a top priority among Loudoun County voters, the races for all nine School Board seats have been without controversy or even much disagreement.
The fast-growing 28,787-student district is grappling with school crowding and ways to expand the curriculum when most money is spent providing the latest influx of students with classrooms and textbooks. The school system also is under pressure to boost student scores on the state-mandated Standards of Learning exams.
Fifteen candidates hoping to help lead the system for the next four years participated in as many as five debates in recent weeks. They agreed on the need for increased teacher pay, smaller class sizes, more schools and an improved relationship between the School Board and the Board of Supervisors.
But some differences have surfaced. Republican-backed challengers have criticized the incumbents for giving School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III a $10,000 raise. Those challengers also want to see a leaner spending proposal sent to county supervisors, who have the final say on the school budget.
"You have folks who got elected four years ago who--I hate to say it--don't have a very good sense of their community," said J. Warren Geurin, a technical writer and consultant who is running unopposed in the Sterling District. Geurin, 53, has told other candidates that once he is seated, he plans to run for chairman.
Incumbents have said they could not recommend cutting the budget any further and pledged to lobby supervisors to fully fund school system needs. They defended their record, arguing that the schools need more money, not less.
"When people talk about cutting the fat, it's usually before they get on the School Board," said incumbent Harry F. Holsinger (Blue Ridge), 63, who is running unopposed.
The most contested race is in the Broad Run District, where three candidates are vying to represent the most populous area in eastern Loudoun. Susan N. Hembach, a field representative for the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the incumbent who was appointed in June to fill a vacancy, is being challenged by 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.
Andrews and Zuckerman, both 38, said bigger schools are sometimes better if they save communities from being carved up between two campuses. They said every school should not be built for the same number of students.
"Instead of a number, let's look at the community we're serving," Zuckerman said.
Hembach, 41, reiterated her support for small schools but added, "we need to send the kids to their community schools."
In terms of fund-raising, Andrews was winning the race with $9,648, according to campaign finance reports released Monday.
Two challengers are vying for the Mercer District seat. They are Patrick F. Chorpenning Jr., 31, a Fairfax County high school teacher, and Dean W. Coursen, 62, who owns a landscaping firm.
Frederick F. Flemming, 73, a retired college professor, is challenging incumbent Jeffrey M. Maged, 38, a former chiropractor who is now a financial adviser, for the Leesburg District seat.
At several debates, Flemming and Maged agreed on several issues. Both are strong supporters, for example, of boosting teacher salaries and expanding other benefits for them.
In the Sugarland Run District, incumbent Candyce P. "Candy" Cassell, 46, an administrator at a law firm, is running against Edward L. "Lee" Ostrander, 39, senior site manager for an engineering and contracting firm. They have appeared together only at two forums, but there are sharp differences between the two.
Cassell, an ally of Hatrick, has vowed to push for more school funding. Ostrander has campaigned for fewer raises for administrators and closer questioning of Hatrick's initiatives. They agree, however, on the need for raises for teachers.
Wendall T. Fisher, 45, senior program director of the YMCA of Loudoun County, is running for reelection for the board's at-large seat against Thomas E. "Tom" Reed, a systems consultant. Reed, 43, is the only candidate to voice support for vouchers, which would allow students to attend private schools with public funds. He has received $2,250 in campaign contributions from local Republican Party groups, according to finance reports.
At several debates, Fisher has reiterated his call for smaller high schools, not to exceed 1,250 students. "We must maintain contact with students at all times," he said.
Besides Geurin, three candidates are running unopposed: incumbents Joseph W. Vogric (Dulles), 46, a business executive who is School Board chairman, and Holsinger (Blue Ridge), a retired high school principal who is vice chairman, and, in the Catoctin District, newcomer Geary M. Higgins, 46, labor relations director for the National Electrical Contractors Association.
Guerin, Higgins, Ostrander, Reed and Coursen are considered the most politically conservative candidates; the five have been endorsed by the local Republican Party and received party contributions.
They said the School Board sent an inflated spending plan to the Board of Supervisors last spring, forcing the supervisors to slash some expenses and hurting relations between the two boards.
"The public's perception is that the School Board did not do its job," Coursen said.
His opponent, Chorpenning, and other candidates, have argued that party politics have no place on the School Board. "I don't think that education should be a partisan issue, and I think it has become that," Chorpenning said.
Only two school groups have endorsed candidates, and their selections were nearly identical.
Parents Love a Neighborhood School (PLANS), and the political action committee of the Loudoun Education Association both endorsed Cassell, Chorpenning, Fisher and Hembach.
In the Leesburg District, the teachers union voiced support for Maged, but PLANS is backing Flemming.
The union PAC also pledged to support unopposed candidates Holsinger, Vogric and Geurin but did not endorse Higgins, the only other unopposed candidate.
PLANS declined to make formal endorsements of unopposed candidates, but a written statement released by its executive board said, "PLANS is pleased to see Chairman Joe Vogric from Dulles and [Vice Chairman] Harry Holsinger from Blue Ridge returning to the board."
CAPTION: A leading issue in the School Board races is the county's rapidly growing schools. Above, students at Loudoun County High School.