School Board Candidates

From The Loudoun Times Mirror
Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011
By Laura Peters

Loudoun County School Board candidates and those vying for chairman of the Board of Supervisors got together Oct. 19 for a forum on schools.

Candidates in the Catoctin and Ashburn districts and for the At-Large seat answered questions on school site acquisition, the budget, technology and overcrowding.

Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott York (R) and Democrat opponent Tom Bellanca spoke on school issues that concern the board, including land acquisition and budget.

Catoctin District

Incumbent Jennifer Bergel and opponent Pablo “Paul” Arias touched on how the school system has changed with the downturn in the economy.

“A couple of things that I bring to the table is as the incumbent working on the School Board I didn’t realize the economy was going to tank as I came in,” Bergel said. “So this has been a really difficult four-year term. Knowing what was in the school systems before versus what we’ve had to change since because of the economy and where we’re heading, I’m hoping to have another opportunity in order to make changes and at the same time move us back to where we were before.”

Main concerns for Bergel are class sizes, getting programs back on the ground and creating transparency for Loudoun’s citizens.

“One of the ways I’ve done this on this term is policy manual review and changes,” Bergel said. “Those closed sessions that occur between the Board of Supervisors and School Board as a school board we agreed that we should be part of those closed sessions and so during this term, we have shared the closed session time so we know the message from us is delivered from us to the Board of Supervisors.”

Arias will address school site issues first if elected as well as class sizes.

“My son has 38 kids in his Spanish class,” Arias said. “My mom taught Spanish for 30 years. She said at 28 [students], you can’t teach. At 30 it’s impossible. Thirty-eight she would have never imagined it. We have to start looking at class sizes and determine how to pare that down.”

Arias stands behind providing “true goals” to his constituents.

“Anytime that you look at the problem you try to find areas that you can work on and provide true goals – four years go by really fast I’m sure,” Arias said. “My first one is school sites – where are we placing the schools? Capital improvement projects, how are we making those decisions? Which truly goes back to the accountability and visibility of the School Board to the taxpayers who are providing the funds to generate the ability to site theses schools.”

Ashburn District

Ashburn District candidates Eric Hornberger, Debbie Piland, John Ryan, John Andrews and Chris Souther discussed what they’d do right away once elected.

Hornberger, who has been involved in the past two years, says he wishes to keep that involvement no matter how the election turns out.

“I think the first thing I’ll do is continue to do what I have been doing,” Hornberger said. “I think you have to keep going and move quickly. I am the candidate who day one can start working right away on the projects that are of most concern of the people of Ashburn and that is those three schools and I have been doing that for the past two years.”

Piland, along the same lines as Hornberger, has similar beliefs in staying involved.

“Whether a victory or not, I intend to become more involved in Loudoun County Public Schools in the Ashburn District,” Piland said. “My goal would be to do a lot of outreach. I expect that I would be attending the planning of the site plan of HS-8 and working with my homeowners association and so forth. I would also be interested in looking at the budget.”

Devoting time to constituents is what Ryan plans on doing if elected.

“I think I would spend time meeting with the various constituents involved in each precinct and seeing what’s on their minds so we can move forward in the coming year,” Ryan said. “I think I would become involved with schools in the district, talk with principals to see what their concerns and needs are.”

Andrews believes his experience with construction would come into play if elected.

“After the election is over and I’m fortunate enough to receive the support of the citizens in the Ashburn District, [my first goal] is to reach out to ask all the communities,” Andrews said. “I think it’s also important to meet with the person who wins the Board of Supervisors. What’s important in the Lansdowne community is starting to work with the communities, or the streets and communities that are going to be effected with all the construction of HS-8.”

Souther wants to win but feels that victory might be bittersweet. Souther would have to give up his job as a teacher in Loudoun County Public Schools if elected and says the hardest part would be informing his students that he’d be leaving.

“I’m going to have to break the news to my students because they’d be getting a new teacher come January – that’s going to be heartbreaking to me,” Souther said. “I’m going to meet with everyone there is to meet with. And I hope the School Board has a transition plan in place. Quite frankly like everything I’ve done in my life I’m going to study hard and I’m going to prepare myself and I’m going to look to see other candidates that have been elected and what they’re doing, because we need to work as a community.”

At-large

School Board At-Large member Tom Reed, Broad Run incumbent Bob Ohneiser and candidate Jay Bose spoke on issues of skepticism among board members.

“My nature is if I am to make a decision, I don’t make a decision on the spot,” Bose said. “You can try to be very active and reactive, but it has to be tempered.”

Ohneiser told the audience that he has been known to question everything which he considers a benefit for the board.

“I think I’m the most [skeptical person] on the School Board. I ask more questions than the entire School Board put together when it comes to the budget,” Ohneiser said. “When constituents ask me a question, it’s not my job to immediately conclude what to to. I ask my staff for input. Part of the reason I’m so comfortable with asking so many questions is that over eight years I’ve applied myself to asking staff questions. I know how to ask questions, and I know how to represent my constituents.”

Reed considers himself a “facilitator” and tries to work with all members of the board.

“One of the first things I try to do is coordinate with their district. Some of the answers I attempt to work with other School Board members, because in some cases I get responses and others I don’t,” Reed said. “Over the years, I’ve asked a lot of questions, too. I ask questions that I think are going to either lead to answers, to highlight something or to areas that we want to have something like an improvement on.”

Chairman of the board

York stood on his leadership platform and how it’s pushed Loudoun forward through a huge growth period.

“I think very much I’ve offered steady leadership,” York said. “We have consistently maintained through my efforts to maintain plans that are in place. I have offered steady leadership, I have gone forward through this past decade through this very radical growth.”

Bellanca believes his work in politics in the past will benefit him if elected as chairman.

“I went to school for political science. I studied government structures, specifically focused on international, different forms of government and governments in Europe, and how governments are designed,” Bellanca said. “I’ve interned on the Hill and I’ve been involved in the political process for the last 20 years.”

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