Most of the candidates endorsed by the Fairfax County Republican Party for the school board this year have been ranting and raving about how Democrats have had a majority on the school board since it became an elected position back in the 1990’s. Priscilla DeStefano (one of the at-large candidates), for instance, went on a rant about it during a forum at Mantua Elementary School earlier this month and Elizabeth Schultz has frequently claimed the Democratic majority has “bullied” her and prevented any work from happening during her eight years on the board.
During forum hosted by the Springfield District Council on October 29th, Schultz continued using that messaging. After arguing that politics has no place on the school board, the ultra conservative school board member went on to claim Democrats were responsible for everything that she believe’s gone wrong with the school system.
“Being a board member doesn’t have anything to do with politics. That’s the problem,” Schultz claimed. “And there’s been one party that’s been in charge of the school system every single year since they were elected and many years actually before then when they were appointed.”
“The lack of planning time for teachers is because of one side,” Schultz said. “The lack of correct pay for teachers is because of one side. The lack of getting children off the pre-K waiting listing is because of one side. They are not delivering the solutions.”
She then went on to claim the reason she hasn’t been able to deliver for the Springfield district is because the rest of the school board refuses to even talk to her. “As long as they can get to seven [votes] without ever talking to anybody else,” Schultz claims the Democrats won’t even talk to her to consider the needs of her constituents.
Ironically, this comes from someone who was over 90 minutes late to at least two school board meetings in the last two weeks. If she isn’t even able to make it to meetings on time, it’s hard to imagine she’s truly aware of how her fellow board members are engaging each other and the general public. Commonsense suggests she’d likely play a larger role in the discussion if she’d simply show up on time to meetings the taxpayers are paying her to attend.
Of course, all this talk about partisanship and placing blame on the Democrats is a desperate attempt to suggest her opponents would put a partisan agenda ahead of engaging and representing the community. Both Kyle McDaniel, a former staffer to Republican supervisor Pat Herrity who’s now running against Schultz as an independent, and Laura Jane Cohen, a former teacher who’s the Democratic endorsed candidate, were quick to point out that it’s actually Elizabeth Schultz who’s failed to engage the general public
Kyle McDaniel even said her failure to engage the public was actually one of his major motivations for deciding to get into the race.
“Community engagement is critical and you can’t really represent people you don’t engage with,” McDaniel said. “That’s been one of the lacking issues, in my opinion, in the last eight years and one of my big motivations to run for this office.”
“Having worked for another person who represents this district on another board, I’ve learned that something as simple as a regular email newsletter” is extremely beneficial, Kyle said. He also stressed the importance of doing things like holding town halls (both in person one and over the phone), engaging on social media, and using a variety of other methods to reach out to the public.
After Kyle’s remarks, Schultz suggested the only reason she hasn’t engaged the public during her eight years on the board is because doesn’t have a half million dollar a year budget to spend on a staff.
“This is the problem with being on the outside looking in and having been the staff of someone who has a half a million dollars to staff his legislative and community outreach,” Schultz said. “It’s very easy to do community engagement when you have four, or five, or six, or seven staff members.”
She not only complained about the Board of Supervisors having a larger staff than the school board, but she grumbled about how she’s supposedly had “seven or eight executive assistants in the eight years” she’s been on the board. She suggested that this high turnover, the fact that members of the school board have to share staffers, and the lack of a large budget for staff are the reasons she hasn’t been showing up to PTA meetings, attending events at local schools, consistently holding community offices hours, or doing other activities that’d allow her to learn about what’s important to her constituents.
Of course, other school board members are working with the same tools and are able to find time to engage the community. Plus, Schultz can’t really be that hard pressed to find the time because she managed to skip a digital citizenship week event at Centreville High School a couple weeks ago in order to host an event with staff members from a designated hate group. This all suggests that she simply hasn’t prioritized engaging the community in an authentic manner.
Engaging the community also doesn’t have to cost a lot of time or money. As Laura Jane Cohen pointed out during the Springfield District Council forum, one of the ways a school board member can engage the community is by making appointments to the various citizen advisory committees. Schultz, however, hasn’t even bothered to do that.
“One of the first ways that we engage community members is by having these advisory committees to the school board,” Laura Jane said. “Unfortunately our school board member has been a chronic non-filler of appointments. We currently have four of the ten appointments where there is no one from the Springfield District sitting on them.”
“Our AAPAC, which is our advanced academics, hasn’t been filled in Springfield since 2016,” Laura Jane highlighted. “Our C-TEC, which I currently sit on, our career and technical education; no appointments since 2017. Our ACE committee, adult and community education; vacant since 2017. Our SHAC, student health advisory; nobody on there this year.”
“So making sure that we put our community members on these committees so we can have that interplay and advice from those committees is essential,” Laura Jane said showing a very easy way for a school board member to engage the community without a large staff or budget.
In other words, there are plenty of easy ways for a school board member to engage the public even though the Board of Supervisors has a bigger budget and more staff. As Kyle McDaniel put it later in the forum, “it doesn’t cost a half million dollars to send out an email.” Elizabeth Schultz has simply decided not to engage her constituents and is trying to shift the blame onto everyone else in order to avoid taking any responsibility for her time in office.
But if you want to see Schultz rant about how everyone else is to blame for her failure to engage the public and produce results during her time on the school board, here’s video of her closing statement from the Springfield District Council forum.