New Board Members Face 'Learning Curve'

New Board Members Face 'Learning Curve'

Five new School Board members will join incumbent board members to serve a four-year term starting in January 2004.

School Board member Warren Geurin (Sterling) is expecting "a period of getting to know you" before the five new School Board members take office in January.

Geurin, Thomas Reed (At large), John Andrews (Potomac) and Robert DuPree (Dulles) were reelected to serve on the School Board from 2004-07. Incumbent Candyce Cassell, the only other board member to seek reelection, lost to Joseph Guzman, a Republican like most of the board members on the next School Board, though their party affiliation is not a consideration on the ballot.

"Some of the new members have not previously been exposed to the workings of the School Board or the relationship between the School Board and administration," Geurin said.

Next month, Superintendent of Schools Edgar Hatrick will hold an orientation session on the basics of running a School Board, the policy-making process and the process for making budget decisions. Returning board members, administrators and the superintendent will make themselves available to answer questions for the members-elect, who also will be invited to attend board meetings through the end of the year.

"I am talking informally with all of the new folks on the School Board, talking about the different issues, getting them up to speed and [telling them] what to expect over the next couple of months," Reed said. "I think we’re going to work well as a group together. I think we’re going to be a good board."

The members-elect already have experience teaching or volunteering in Loudoun schools, Geurin said, adding that he expects them to bring a grassroots perspective to the board that will represent the perspectives of those they encounter in Loudoun schools. "Those are the kinds of backgrounds and experiences we are fortunate to have," he said.

IN THE NEXT term, Geurin and the three other incumbents will continue to improve the relationship the current board has with the Board of Supervisors, he said. "The four returning members will, I think, work hard on building the relationships we have with the returning Board of Supervisors and broaden that outreach to include the six new … supervisors," he said. "There are things, if it was totally up to me, the Board of Supervisors would have done differently. I don’t know if it’s going to be particularly helpful to go over the past years of history and pinpoint where we disagreed."

Andrews believes the current and new board members "will be able to work together for the betterment of schools," he said, adding that as far as he has seen, the board members-elect want to improve education and place schools first.

"It’s a large system with lots of issues and lots of growth," Andrews said, adding that at first, the new board will have to work longer hours at meetings until the members-elect learn the process and issues. "It took me a year to get a solid grasp on all the multitude of issues we have to deal with. … The first year is a big learning curve. It’s going to be an educational experience for everyone."

New School Board member Bob Ohneiser (Broad Run) has already begun his work for the School Board, since as a lawyer and now as a board member, he does not want to walk in unprepared, he said. He scheduled two open forums next month to find out the issues and concerns of residents living in the Broad Run District. He believes that School Board members should develop a significant part of meeting agendas, rather than serving as "a rubber stamp" on all of the staff-directed items brought to the board for approval. "It should be engaging the administration, not waiting for things to come up," he said.

Once he is on the board, Ohneiser wants to take the role of asking questions, specifically to seek a breakdown of statistics that he said are currently given in averages. He wants to identify class sizes from school to school and grade by grade, along with the length of bus trips for each school in the county. "I want to see the actual range of stats on a school-by-school basis. We need to evaluate operational efficiency on a school-by-school basis, not countywide," he said.

As far as the Board of Supervisors, Ohneiser favors holding a joint and public meeting between both boards, giving residents and board members a chance to address their concerns about the relationships, followed by a list of steps to take. "I’m not a backroom politician," he said. "I really think these communities need to have vigilant protection and insightful support."