Higgins, on Boundaries

I am writing in response to a letter from Phyllis Sloyan ["A Backroom Deal," Loudoun Extra, Jan. 16]. I have never spoken with Sloyan, nor has she ever attempted to contact me. If she attended any of the many boundary-related meetings that I did, she made no effort to introduce herself to me.

In her letter, she makes numerous inaccurate statements and accusations. The inaccuracies include allegations of "a last-minute surprise," "a backroom deal," "a triumph for the rich and powerful" and displacing children and false statements by me at a Waterford PTO meeting regarding the Beacon Hill Phase II development.

I will not attempt to address all of these inaccuracies because the people who spoke directly with me know the facts, but I would like to address two.

First, I attended all public input meetings and met with every interested person or group possible. My dealings with everyone were completely above board and in the open. Second, I did not attend a Waterford PTO meeting at which the Beacon Hill issue was discussed or make false statements to anyone about boundary issues.

The decision to move Phase II of Beacon Hill into the Waterford attendance district was not made lightly. The issue was discussed openly at the public meetings that I attended and with the staff from the beginning of the process, along with many other options.

The staff and the School Board board were aware that I would be offering an amendment to the revised plan that contained the other changes I had pushed for, including movement of the northern areas back into the Waterford attendance zone. The open question on my amendment to the revised plan was the number of roads that I was going to include.

My final decision to include all the roads in Phase II in my amendment was based on:

* Proximity to the school. The community lies 1.8 miles from the school, considerably closer than several other areas that will be in the attendance area.

* Keeping communities together. This area has no access to the main Beacon Hill development that has access to Routes 7 and 9. These lots are on the outside of that development. Current boundaries split the neighborhood in half at Hurley Lane and Old Waterford Road. Before 1995, this area was in the Waterford attendance zone.

* Total attendance numbers for Waterford Elementary. There was considerable concern among the Waterford PTO that the staff recommendation for the school left it substantially underenrolled for the future and that a future board might pick up on that issue and use it as an excuse to close it.

Many people wished to get into or back into Waterford Elementary, but the only numbers that would work and not push it over capacity, after including northern areas, were the six to eight children in Phase II of Beacon Hill. These numbers will grow to 12 by the 2007-08 school year.

The number of students for the Paeonian Springs area in question, south of Route 9, will be 37, growing to 52 by the 2007-08 school year. The unfortunate fact is that the Paeonian Springs area south of Route 9 will not fit into the school under the revised plan, regardless of whether Phase II of Beacon Hill or anyone else is in or out of the attendance zone.

I knew this decision might not be politically popular for those who had been moved out, but I felt that the long-term interests of the school were better served by having it at or near capacity by the end of the projection period.

I realize that these reasons may not satisfy those who wanted in and particularly those who had to be moved. It was a very difficult process and one that I do not soon wish to repeat.

I am sorry that this process has pitted neighbor against neighbor, and I apologize to anyone whom I have offended. If we could have accommodated everyone's wishes, that is certainly what I would have preferred. The only downside to small schools is just that, that they are small.

Geary M. Higgins

School Board member

Catoctin District

In Defense of Primaries

There seem to be a lot of misconceptions and some erroneous information circulating about use of direct primaries to nominate candidates for public office. This is not surprising because Loudoun Republicans have seldom used primaries to do so.

What we have been hearing is that a GOP primary would be very expensive. In reality, a primary will be scheduled June 10 whether or not it is used to nominate GOP candidates for local office.

This is because primaries are the most common method for choosing candidates for state legislature, including our Loudoun legislative candidates. Use of this primary to select local GOP candidates will not increase its cost one iota.

Another misconception is the apparent belief that GOP primaries increase the problem of crossover voting by Democrats. The truth is that Democrats can participate in any GOP nominating process.

The greatest insurance we can have against crossover voting comes from use of primaries. If Republicans and Democrats use primaries, voters will be legally prohibited from crossing over because they will be required to choose a primary in which to participate. When Republicans schedule a separate nominating process, local Democrats can vote on nominations of both parties.

Primaries also solve a problem often overlooked when this issue is discussed. Under the primary format, candidates who seek Republican nominations cannot run as independents. It is not possible for them to continue campaigns as independents if they lose the GOP primary.

In 1995 and 1999, Loudoun Republicans were plagued by candidates switching to independent campaigns after they lost the GOP nomination despite having pledged not to.

As a former local Republican committee chairman, this is a problem of great concern. It's time for the party to end this practice, and a primary is the only means available. When I was local party chairman in the mid-1990s, we were undergoing an evolutionary process, adapting nominating methods to keep pace with the surging Republican population. As we gradually moved from mass meetings to conventions to "firehouse primaries," we found that rapid population growth kept overtaking us.

A primary is the only method that can reasonably accommodate the large number of voters who will want to participate in the GOP nominating process this year.

I also must chide some fellow Republicans for complaining far too loudly about Democrat crossovers. Most likely, kindergartners could determine how to outvote Democrats in this county. There aren't very many of them to worry about.

We should not hesitate to encourage voter participation by making aspiring candidates excite and turn out Republican voters. Under our two-party system, we should welcome this responsibility. There has been far too much talk about limiting voter participation in the GOP nominating process, the opposite of what we should be hearing. The Republican committee should adopt the primary method.

Wesley S. Corber