The Fauquier County School Board races are infused with such words as "dialogue" and "communication," as candidates vying for the two contested seats try to convince voters that they are better suited than their opponents to repair relations with the Board of Supervisors.
The incumbents, Chairman Mary Charles Ashby (Scott) and Alice Jane Childs (Cedar Run), have sought to distance themselves from the feuding with the supervisors, both pointing to the successes during their terms, highlighting their communication skills and shifting blame to the supervisors.
The challengers, William G. Downey IV, who is running against Ashby, and Gary A. Maloche, who is running against Childs, insist that new blood is needed to end what they view as an escalating climate of mistrust.
All four agree that relations with the supervisors need to be repaired, especially because talks on next year's school budget begin in earnest in the coming weeks.
In addition to the issues, the outcome of Tuesday's election is likely to hinge on organization and the ability to turn out voters in what is expected to be another low-turnout year.
Ashby, a retired teacher who lives in The Plains, has active backing from some parent-teacher groups and has deployed many volunteers from her last campaign in 1995. Childs, 73, of Casanova, who won six elections as Fauquier County Commissioner of Revenue before leaving that position and defeating Maloche for the School Board seat in 1995, has deep roots in the community and a proven get-out-the-vote organization.
But both challengers enjoy endorsements from the Fauquier Education Association's political action wing--which endorsed Ashby and Childs in the 1995 elections--and from the Fauquier Republican Party, which in recent years has been successful at getting people to the polls for their candidates.
Downey, 39, of New Baltimore, is a construction consultant working in Fairfax. Maloche, 45, is a computer engineer for an Arlington defense firm and serves on the Fauquier County Library Board. Both he and Downey served on a citizens task force on teachers' compensation.
The heavy organizational lifting has taken place behind the scenes as candidates have engaged each other in discussions over the previous year's budget battles. Relations began to sour after the supervisors failed to support the School Board's full budget request. In Virginia, supervisors set tax rates and the level of local financial support for the schools. School boards generally are free to spend the allotted money as they see fit.
The Fauquier supervisors threatened to withhold part of the schools' budget unless the School Board acceded to their funding plan for a teachers' pay raise. The School Board considered a lawsuit, then approved the creation of a finance position that essentially duplicates services provided by the county Finance Department.
Angered by this, the supervisors canceled a four-year-old power-sharing agreement that gave the School Board control over certain departments that also serve other branches of county government.
"I think we've done a very good job," Ashby said of the current School Board. "But you have to look at things from both sides. It's a two-way street."
Childs said, "I've always had a good relationship with" Supervisor Wilbur W. Burton (D-Cedar Run), her counterpart on the Board of Supervisors. "There are no big problems."
Besides the feuding with the supervisors, there have been some bright moments for the schools. A new superintendent, Dallas M. Johnson, is getting high marks for improving morale among teachers. A new elementary school will be ready to open next year. And growth of enrollments has not been as high as predicted.
But students at several schools still take classes in trailers, and improvements at the Virginia Standards of Learning tests have not kept pace with some neighboring school divisions. Teacher pay continues to lag the larger neighboring school divisions, leading the local school administration to worry that recruiting good teachers will be increasingly difficult.
"There are many problems that need to be addressed that need the style of leadership I can provide," Downey said.
"This is a critical time for the schools," Maloche said. Referring to his technology training, he said, "I think with my background, I am well-suited for the job."
Two incumbents, Ernest L. Gray Jr. (Lee) and John E. Williams (Center) are running unopposed to retain their seats. In the Marshall District, B.H. "Broni" Lambelet is running unopposed for the seat of Paul J. Asciolla, who resigned before his term expired. A former School Board member who was appointed to complete Asciolla's term did not seek election.
Gray, 45, of Sumerduck, is a superintendent for a Newington-based electrical contractor and was first elected to the board in 1995. Williams, 67, of Warrenton, is a retired National Security Agency computer specialist who was appointed to the board in 1994 and first won election in 1995.
Lambelet, 47, of Orlean, is a substitute teacher and former case manager for a court-ordered drug and alcohol treatment program. She also has served as co-chairman for the Fauquier County Fair.