By Chris Croll
Whether or not you have children enrolled in Loudoun County Public Schools, the upcoming general election is an important one. At least six of the nine seated School Board members will be new since six current board members, myself included, are not running for re-election. It takes five votes to pass any legislation, policies or other action items so the new School Board will likely have a tremendous impact on the future of public education in our county. The quality of our schools attracts not only homeowners but businesses like Amazon and Google.
Because an entire voting block is up for grabs, this is an election where your vote matters. In the past, School Board elections have been won by a handful of votes.
School Board members each serve a four-year term and the annual salary for this job, which is considered part time, is $20,000. The chair receives an extra $2,000 per year to cover additional time spent as the School Board leader.
Here are some insider details about how the School Board works so you can make an informed decision on Nov. 5.
When you go into the voting booth, you will see on your ballot that you can select one School Board candidate to represent your district (Algonquian, Ashburn, Blue Ridge, Broad Run, Catoctin, Dulles, Leesburg or Sterling) and a second candidate, called the At-Large representative, to cover the entire county. Having two School Board representatives gives voters two voices in every board discussion.
If, on your way in to vote, you accept a sample ballot from one of the political party volunteers stationed outside the polls, you will notice that some School Board candidates have a Democratic or Republican endorsement. Don’t let these endorsements fool you; the Loudoun County School Board is a nonpartisan governing body. Decisions that impact approximately 90,000 students and some 11,000 staff members should, ideally, not be influenced by party politics.
The three primary functions of the School Board are to develop and amend the policies that govern the school division, to approve an annual budget, and to hire/fire/evaluate the performance of the superintendent of schools. The superintendent is the only staff member the board directly manages. Everyone else on staff, including school principals, is managed by the superintendent.
Even for voters who do not have children enrolled in public schools, this election is important. The annual budget for the school division is now over $1 billion. New schools are being built every year, enrollment is still rising, and our public-school budget is the biggest cost center for the county. In other words, how your tax dollars are spent will be greatly influenced by the nine people serving on the Loudoun County School Board.
In addition to developing the school’s operating budget and capital improvement program, the next School Board will ratify a set of strategic actions or “top priorities” for the next five years for the school division. The new School Board is also expected to address the question of whether or not to install school resource officers (armed police officers) in our county’s elementary schools. The next School Board will draw new boundary lines in some areas of the county and, if that weren’t enough to do, the board will rewrite a number of critical policies that relate to closing opportunity gaps, achieving equity for all students, adopting STEM/STEAM instructional programs and several other mission-critical educational items.
In sum, the nine elected members of the Loudoun County School Board will have a substantial impact on all Loudoun County residents.
The power is in your hands, voters. Wield it wisely.
To research who is running for School Board in your district and see a sample ballot visit the Loudoun Elections & Voter Registration page at:loudoun.gov/5267/Sample-Ballots.
[Chris Croll is a writer, community activist and member of the Loudoun County School Board (Catoctin District). She lives in Leesburg with her husband and two children.]