Political tension spills over at School Board meeting

By Beverly Bradford

Leesburg Patch

Sept. 28, 2011

It fell to the youngest member of the Loudoun School Board to put into perspective the sudden acrimony, including strong language, between two of its senior members at a Tuesday night meeting.

“Politics is politics,” said Loudoun Valley High School senior Ben Baker, who had just left the dais after his one-month student term on the board. He described a sudden flurry of heated words that renewed a simmering feud between Tom Reed (At-Large) and Bob Ohneiser (Broad Run), who wants to unseat Reed in November.

The two sparred over a 2006 email written during the contentious process to determine attendance boundaries drawn for Sycolin Creek Elementary School in Leesburg.

The clock ran down on Reed as he read from a statement during the five-minute comment period allotted to each board member. When Board Chairman John Stevens (Potomac) called time, Reed asked for two more minutes. Concurrently, Ohneiser, an attorney well-versed in Roberts Rules, raised a point of order to protest Reed’s “current desperate discussion,” which he characterized as “uniquely political and sad.”

“This is a violation of our bylaws,” Ohneiser said. “You can’t condone this B.S.”

With that, Stevens ordered a technician to “turn off the microphones” and recessed for five-minutes. Board meetings are televised and recorded.

Reed used that time to distribute copies of a provocative email that appeared to have been written by Ohneiser, in December 2006, that bore Ohneiser’s confidentiality statement at the bottom. The email made reference to the 2007 boundary debate.

When the board returned to the dais, Stevens reminded them that “It’s OK to talk about controversial things, but we need to lower our voices. We’re doing the public’s business, not ours.”

But as young Baker observed, the public’s present business included electing a nine-person School Board on Nov. 8, when two of the nine seats, in Dulles and Broad Run Districts, will be vacated.

Ohneiser wants to raise that number to three by unseating Reed, the board’s only at-large representative. At a Sept. 24 forum for candidates in the Nov. 8 election, Onheiser told minority voters that “Mr. Reed and I do not get along, and I intend to take him off the [school] board.” Jay Bose is also a candidate in the three-way race for the at-large seat.

The animated discussion between Reed and Ohneiser did not resume when the meeting did; Stevens sustained Ohneiser’s point of order and called on Robert DuDree (Dulles) for member comments.

“I had a flashback to a few eruptions when I was chairing [the School Board,]” DuPree said before he segued “Congratulations to Loudoun County for being number one in household income” in the country.

Ohneiser left the dais to ask recipients of copies of his 2006 email, which Reed had distributed, not to use it.

DuPree, who’s not seeking re-election, commented on the Board of Supervisors’ Sept. 20 vote to purchase acreage at the National Conference Center in Lansdowne for construction of HS-8, as the county’s next high school is known.

“It’s not a slam dunk,” DuPree said. “It’s going to be a two to three year process before we get to a site plan.” Dupree added that the Supervisors need to involve citizens in the process.

Ohneiser also referred to the Supervisors’ contract to purchase land for HS 8.

“I want to initiate the concept of a campus,” he said. “If HS 8 is at NCC, we should look at it as a six to 12 grade campus, and if Selden’s [Elementary, in Lansdowne] is overcrowded, maybe 5 to 12 grades.”

Under the proposal to pay $20 million for 45 acres of land from the National Conference Center’s 112-acre site, County officials say that only half would be used for the high school. To complete the high school, land from the Lansdowne Sports Park on Kipheart Drive would be reassigned for use for a high school football stadium, under one of the proposals under consideration.

Later in the meeting Ohneiser did apologize for his mood. He said Reed’s comments were, “a conflict of interest.”

“He violated the law,” Ohneiser said as his time expired, leaving the dais as Baker took over the microphone.

Later, Reed said Ohneiser has violated other members’ district boundaries to “meddle” in their territories. “”It’s just a history of this stuff,” he said.

Baker, a Loudoun Valley senior who also studies computer and digital animation at Monroe Tech, said he liked a question raised by Ohneiser during his board comments:  “Why isn’t it a possibility [for Loudoun teachers] to create some of the content” for interactive classroom tools?

“There is no reason a teacher has to rely [solely] on a salary,” he said. “I would push for them to get entertainment-type residuals” for creating software for subject matter, he said.

Baker agreed, saying “interactive teaching may be the future of school curriculums” and pointing out that if touch tablets replace textbooks, as proposed in the schools’ new technology plan  “it would improve our environmental impact.”

When he left the board auditorium with Loudoun Valley Principal Susan Ross, Baker also commented on Ohneiser’s earlier question to Schools Superintendent Edgar Hatrick, who just returned from a visit to New York for an NBC News summit on “Education Nation.”

“Do you see the use of gaming as a way to engender interest in learning?” Ohneiser asked Hatrick.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that the structure of gaming will enter the field of education through technology,” Hatrick said. “Maybe this is the modern-day crossword puzzle.”

Not being too much of a gamer himself, Baker said he would highly support the use of interactive lesson plans. Students are more likely to grasp content like physics, math, and science, he said, when it is presented with interactive teaching tools in a virtual classroom at schools that might lack resources.

Asked about the common argument that some students would lose an iPad-style tablet, Baker said, “If you put enough emphasis on keeping it, they’d make sure not to lose it. With any plan, there is a level of risk.

“From what I’ve heard, it’s getting increasingly popular in places like Asia and China to use USB drives to keep textbook [material],” he added.

On Tuesday, Oct. 4, the school board will hear pubic response to its technology plan for 2010-2015, which includes a proposal that every student above fourth grade be issued an interactive touch tablet rather than textbooks.

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