County supervisors turned down the School Board’s conditions for testing artificial turf fields in a decision punctuated by an excoriating rant by Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) on Tuesday night.
The School Board had accepted the Board of Supervisors’ offer to pay for testing at three artificial turf fields, but stipulated the county must also test three grass fields, more than doubling the price tag from $27,900 to $68,000. The testing is aimed at addressing concerns that artificial turf fields may contain harmful materials.
Supervisors felt that School’s Board’s condition was not made in earnest.
“This was their attempt to give us a poison pill to back down,” opined board Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn). Buona said he had been told “this was their way of giving us a way out, was to kick it back to us with a bigger price tag, and I was told that bluntly.”
This infuriated Randall.
“For them to do this, they’re playing games, and they’re playing games with maybe the safety of all our students,” Randall said. She pointed out that all schools are surrounded by grass fields, and that there have been no suggestions that they are causing cancer—a possibility that has been raised around artificial turf, although without conclusive evidence.
“School Board members, you should be ashamed of yourselves,” Randall said. “Hear me. You should be ashamed of yourselves. … We’ve been playing on grass for centuries, and here we’re doing this little game playing right now.”
“We’re going to test something that covers probably half the county?” said Supervisor Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian), similarly incensed. “This is a typical back and forth between the School Board and the county. I don’t want to play any more.”
Supervisors reacted to the perceived ploy differently.
Some supervisors, such as Supervisor Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling), wanted to send the agreement back to the School Board with the offer to test only one grass field.
When that failed, Randall, Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg), and Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Broad Run) supported a motion to swallow the “poison pill” and test three grass fields. That motion failed 3-6, meaning the board will not pay to test any fields—natural or artificial.
After the vote, the board took a short break. Returning from the break, Randall apologized for her outburst.
“I worked in the prison system for 15 years and never raised my voice one time,” Randall said. “No, literally never. Ask my inmates. Eight months into this job and I’m yelling and pointing and making you-statements.”