As voters in Prince William County’s Occoquan District consider whom to support in the Nov. 6 election, they’ll have another item to ponder as well: a School Board special election.
Although the 50 or so people at a Tuesday debate at Westminster at Lake Ridge retirement community knew about the election and who was running, the four candidates say they have a tough challenge getting district voters to know about the contest.
The candidates are Stanley Bender, a retired Defense Department employee; Lillie G. Jessie, a former longtime Prince William teacher and administrator; Lori Bauckman-Moore, a small business owner and community volunteer; and Michael E. Wooten, a member of the Northern Virginia Community College board and a teacher at Defense Acquisition University.
The School Board appointed Wooten in June to temporarily fill the spot of Grant Lattin, who resigned in May. Soon after, November’s special election was announced.
Tuesday’s debate, moderated by WTOP (103.5 FM) reporter Mark Segraves and sponsored by the nonpartisan Prince William Committee of 100, was more of an introduction of candidates. The office-seekers were asked a variety of open-ended questions about budgeting issues, freedom of speech and Prince William’s relatively low ranking compared with other Northern Virginia schools. The rankings question cited Washington Area Boards of Education reports that show lower per capita spending on students and test scores in Prince William compared with neighboring school districts. The question generated interesting responses from the candidates.
Bauckman-Moore said Prince William’s changing demographics and an influx of students who don’t speak English pose challenges. She said the key is engaging parents.
“If the parents are learning English, they can help the children learn English,” Bauckman-Moore said.
Wooten said the county can do better. “The competition here is keen,” he said. “We shouldn’t settle for sixth place.”
Bender touted up-to-date technology in classrooms, and Jessie said Prince William faces the same issues as school districts across the country.
“We as a nation need to change what we teach and how we teach it,” Jessie said.
With all the standards required by the state and federal governments, Jessie said, instead of a K-12 curriculum, a K-22 curriculum represents the time needed for children to master all the required skills.
Al Brooks, 65, who attended the debate, mentioned last year’s divisive argument over teacher pay as a top issue. “I’m concerned about teachers compensation and the treatment of teachers in the system,” he said.
All School Board positions in Virginia are nonpartisan; candidates don’t run with a party identifier by their names. But the party system will mean a significant advantage for two candidates on Election Day.
Wooten has the endorsement of the Prince William County Republican Committee and Jessie of the Democratic Committee. Aside from campaign funding and volunteer support, that means the two candidates will appear on sample ballots given to voters at the polls.
The special election could shift on a closely divided School Board on some issues. The initial vote on the school system’s budget yielded a tie in March, before a compromise was reached.