As I mentioned in a post yesterday, the League of Women Voters have been holding a series of forums all across Fairfax County and yesterday was the one for the Hunter Mill District. The Republicans couldn’t find a candidate who was willing to run for the Board of Supervisors on their platform in the district, so the highlight of yesterday’s forum was supposed to be the School Board candidates.
While these forums have literally been over capacity throughout Fairfax and allowed a lot of potential voters hear directly from the candidates, the Republican candidate for school board, Laura Ramirez Drain, couldn’t be bothered to come to discuss her campaign. The traditional format therefore wasn’t possible, but the candidates who actually valued engaging the public still received an opportunity to address the crowd.
Melanie Meren, the Democratic candidate for school board, participated and took a few minutes to make brief remarks. While there are some local conservatives who are bashing the county for spending so much money and claim liberals only want to raise taxes, Melanie started out by saying she believes high quality schools represent “our community investment” and we have to make sure they’re fully funded because they “are the lynch pin of our economy.”
It quickly became clear that Melanie wasn’t just paying lip service to education since she’s running for school board because she actually has a long history in the education field. While she was discussing her background, for instance, she mentioned that she received a graduate degree from Duke and proceeded to go to work for the US Department of Education. She explained that she picked that agency because she “wanted to do the greatest good [she] could, for the greatest number of children.”
Melanie’s desire to see students receive the best education possible took on a personal nature when she had kids and it was want prompted her to get actively involved at the local level. As Fairfax County was looking at significant budget shortfalls, there was a $75 million proposed cut to the school system’s budget.
With her child entering kindergarten that year, the mother with experience in the education field was extremely worried about this could have on the school system. Melanie therefore helped organize a group of other mothers who lobbied county officials and were able to see lower cuts to the budget. She says this process is what really kick started her knowledge of the budget process here in Fairfax and gave her experience that will prove useful if she’s elected this year.
One of the hot topics during the school board races has been discussing how the board can help ensure students from all backgrounds have an opportunity to be successful. While there’s a lot of talk about racial diversity, there’s also been some focus on the need to improve efforts to serve students with disabilities as well. It’s with all this in mind that Melanie highlighted how students come to class with different backgrounds and we should “be very purposeful” in efforts to make sure everyone can thrive.
“We ought to be very purposeful in offering the kind of education students need,” Melanie said. “Whether it’s in advanced, whether it’s students with disabilities and special needs, whether its going to a four year college or technical school, that they’re ready to go onto their successful life.”
Looking at the electoral situation in the district, Hunter Mill is one of the more liberal magisterial districts and is currently represented by Pat Hynes. Pat’s a public school teacher who decided not to seek reelection, but brought a lot of experience in the education field and had developed relationships with other elected officials at various levels of government. Her departure from the board means the district is losing a very effective member of the school board.
Pat isn’t the only current member of the board who isn’t seeking reelection, however, as half the incumbents won’t be on the ballot next month — including Jane Strauss (who first joined the board in 1991) and Illryong Moon (who served in the late ’90s and from 2004 until the present). That obviously means the board is losing a lot of members with long institutional knowledge. But as Melanie pointed out, this means there’s also a great opportunity for voters to influence what new voices get brought into the process.
“This is a really exciting year because after this election at least half the school board will be new. At least six of the twelve,” Melanie stressed. “And each of you get to vote for four school board members. One is local and three are at large. So that’s a third of the school of the school board that each of you has on your ballot.”
There’s an old saying that showing up is half the battle. Melanie Meren was the only school board candidate who showed up yesterday and she went onto show she had the background and vision to serve Hunter Mill well on the school board.
For those who are interested, here’s the video of her remarks: