Plot Spoiler - They Support Full Day Kindergarten. What Else Do Candidates Reveal About Education? Summary of the 'meet and greets' held on September 28th and 30th

Remember that the candidates for the Board of Supervisors who attended the September 28th and the September 30th Loudoun League of Women Voters’ meet and greets all said that they support full day kindergarten.  On November 3rd, take note of who has been elected and hold them accountable for supporting FDK during their campaign if you want to see that accomplished. While answering the questions on that, they also talked about some of their views of Loudoun’s public education in general.   

This post covers the September 28th meet and greet for Ashburn and Dulles candidates and the September 30th meet and greet for the Blue Ridge, Catoctin, and Leesburg district candidates. 

Attending September 28th at the Gum Springs Library:

Mike R. Turner (D-Ashburn)
Incumbent Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn)
Anjan S. Chimaladinne (D-Dulles)
Incumbent Matt F. Letourneau (R-Dulles). 

Attending September 30th at the Leesburg Senior Center:

Richard A. Jimmerson (I-Blue Ridge)
Craig M. Green (D-Catoctin)
William A. Estrada (R-Leesburg)
Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg)

Absent were Tony R. Buffington, Jr. (R-Blue Ridge) who did not respond to the invitation and Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) who had a conflict. 

Leesburg Today covered the Ashburn/Dulles forum here and you can read the Loudoun Times Mirror coverage of the Blue Ridge/Catoctin/Leesburg event  here.

The final LOWV meet and greet will be held on Tuesday, October 6, 2015, for Chairman, Board of Supervisors with Thomas E. Bellanca (I), Charlie L. King (R), Phyllis J. Randall (D), and Incumbent Scott K. York (I).  This will be held at 7 pm in conjunction with NVCC in the Waddell Theatre on the Loudoun campus. It's open to the public and free to attend.

The Loudoun Chamber of Commerce is also holding a Supervisors candidate forum on Wednesday, October 7, at 8 am at the National Conference Center in Lansdowne. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.

While the only education-related question asked at each of the September forums was on the topic of full-day kindergarten, the candidates also talked about education funding in general. Check out the excerpts of their responses below to give more insight into who would support our schools.

Ashburn and Dulles

Question:  Dr. Williams has put forth a plan in which he can get half of kindergarten students into full day kindergarten over four years at a cost of $35.5 M.  Previous estimates have come in for Universal full day kindergarten for $52 million.  Is the plan proposed by Dr. Williams aggressive enough and will you push supervisors to fund it?

Turner (D-Ashburn).  The short answer is no, it is not aggressive enough.  LC right now is the only county in Virginia that does not have a plan for full day kindergarten.  We are the only county in Virginia right now that does not have at least 50% of it’s students in full day kindergarten.  We are one of like only 3 counties total in Virginia that don’t have full day kindergarten.  The benefits of full day kindergarten are manifest.  The was a study by the University of Virginia in December that clearly demonstrated for the first time an evidenced based conclusion that FULL DAY KINDERGARTEN has a lasting effect through all of primary education.  I cannot understand frankly why for the wealthiest county in the United states for six or seven years running is not able to do what every other county in Virginia has done, which is plan for full day kindergarten.  This Board has underfunded education for the last 3 ½ years by  $95 million dollars.  They will tell you they have increased funding by 15 to 20 30% the number varies.  But when you‘ve got a glass that is empty and you add a 10 or 15% percent of water to it, it is still fundamentally an empty glass.  We need to fully fund education.  And we certainly don’t need to underfund education because of an artificial, government imposed reduction of property taxes that creates artificial budget crisis every year, the primary impact of which falls on education because let’s face it, for the last four years education, public education in this county has not been a priority for these supervisors. 

Buona (R-Ashburn).  I took the public position almost three years ago that I fully support full day kindergarten.  And there are those who have said otherwise, but I have documentation to show that I took that position three years ago.  I put this at the top of my list with the LCPS.  We have an issue of operating costs versus capital costs.  The operating costs we could easily handle within the current budget, there is no doubt about that to go to full day kindergarten.  I agree, I don’t think the plan is aggressive enough either.  I’d like to see us move faster to get this done.  I’ve talked to Superintendent Williams about it, I’ve talked to the chairman of the School Board about it.  And they are working that plan.  That said, we have a capital problem.  That is, we have schools that can’t accommodate this.  So one of my suggestions has been, lets go to the principal and teachers in every single elementary school and say, “If we can fund full day kindergarten today, how would you make it work in your school?  Could you rearrange things in your school?  Do you need modular trailers for a period of time until we can build?”  I mean, there’s a hybrid of approaches, lots of approaches we can take here.   We can handle the capital costs because the capital costs are probably in the neighborhood of $60 million.  And it’s a lot of elementary schools we need to add on to.  So, can we do it right away?  I believe we can from an operating perspective.  We are going to have to be creative though, on the other side of that.  When we took office , the average spent per student was $11,000.  This year, the average spent per student in this county is over $12,700.  So I would say we have taken this in the right direction over the past 3 ½ years.  We have significantly increased the school budget over what the previous board did.  Thank you.

Chimaladinne (D-Dulles).  “I would definitely support, as a parent of two children who had entered half day kindergarten program I know the pain.  I definitely give the support for full day kindergarten, that’s a basic need.  And as the richest county that was mentioned earlier, we should be doing that.  I would like to work with the general assembly to bring back our tax dollars ….” 

“My opponent did vote for school funding cuts year after year. FY13, FY14, FY15 close to $76 million dollars.  That’s not fully funding our schools.  I would like to fully fund our schools every single year.  Not just election years.  Thank you.”

Letourneau (R-Dulles).  So I’m the only person up here who has two children who have not yet entered full day kindergarten.  So this is not just an academic discussion for me.  I’ve had two that have been through ½ day and two that are entering kindergarten.  So, I understand the stakes here and they personally effect me and we absolutely do need to move toward a system that has full day kindergarten.  That’s not what I’m debating.  But what nobody up here is discussing is what they are going to cut from the capital budget in order to make it happen.  And that is why this is a concern.  Unlike others, I don’t sell Dr. Williams short and I don’t sell the school board short.  I know that they take this problem seriously and I know that they are addressing it.  The plan that was just introduced just came to the school board about a month ago.  So I do want to give the school board some time to work on it.  That’s the way our system is supposed to work. The school board makes a proposal and then the Board considers funding on it.  Will I do whatever I can to actually fund it?  Absolutely.  But the reality is, particularly in this part of the county, our elementary schools are at capacity.  And you’d have to double the number of sections of kindergarten in order to make way, make room for full day kindergarten.  I am not willing to put 35 kids in a classroom at every other grade level for full day kindergarten.  I am not willing to cancel the Advanced Technology Academy project, our STEM focused high school in order to do full day kindergarten.  And what we have not heard from any of the other candidates running on this platform is any kind of detail whatsoever about what they are taking out of the capital budget.  Because, make no mistake, something will have to come out of the capital budget as Supervisor Buona said.  Now we have funded the schools with a 29% increase versus 15% enrollment.  We were playing catch up from the previous Board of Supervisors, which was not controlled by my political party.  But we went through some tough times in Loudoun.  We have done so in a sustained way and we have found a relationship with the new Superintendent where we are able to increase the budget $70 million dollars the last two years.  One year it was fully funded one year it was not.  But the budget increase was $70 million dollars for both years.  Now, I’ve heard a lot of feedback about what goes on in our schools. 

Blue Ridge, Catoctin, and Leesburg Districts

Question.  Is all day kindergarten a high priority for you and your constituents?
 Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) and Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) did not attend.

Umstattd (D-Leesburg).  Yes.  For better or for worse, we live in a county where families, both members, the family, have to work full-time, and they have to commute and have to work long hours.  And we all wish that were not the case, but it is.  They need good full day kindergarten for their children.  I wish we could all you know just be home with our children all the time.  And I know we all want to be there, but the realities of trying to make a living in Loudoun County are so difficult.  We need our children to be in safe places and we need them to have the best learning opportunities that they can.  My constituents are in favor of full day kindergarten and I think we need to come up with a way to fund it.  We need to fully support our public schools because, you may or may not have children in public schools, but if we let our children fall through the cracks, who is going to support any of us when we get to old to work ourselves?  It’s the reality of modern America and I think our children deserve the best that we can give them.

Estrada (R-Leesburg).  My wife Rachel and I have a three year-old Dominic and like many of you, like many of your children, or taking care of your grandkids you see that full day kindergarten that would be offered by the schools would be an incredible benefit to all us.  So, I think that all of us support full day kindergarten in theory but a politician will say on day one, “I am going to give you full day kindergarten.”  As a steward, as someone seeking your vote to be a wise steward of your resources, while I support full day kindergarten, there are several priorities we need to make sure that we have first before we implement it in our county.  Again, it’s being implemented partially, so I think the question is whether we do full day kindergarten instanteously.  We need to make sure first that our teachers are receiving the pay that they deserve.  My dad spent 34 years as a special education teacher in a New York state public school.  He’s still substituting now as a Spanish teacher.  I have friends who are teachers here in Loudoun County, some of the hardest working men and women you will ever see.  We are not paying them enough money.  Let’s hear it for our teachers.  The other thing we need to make sure is that our classrooms are not overcrowded.  While I support full day kindergarten, I was personally intrigued by the story by Danielle Nadler in Leesburg Today, September 30th, where she wrote, ‘Loudoun’s high schools boost graduation rates.  ….  The first priority we have on the Board of Supervisors and our school board is to make sure that our schools are the best in the nation.  I will support our schools and we will look at ways to bring in full day kindergarten.

Jimmerson (I-Blue Ridge).  I actually do support full day kindergarten.  I’ve knocked on hundreds of doors over the last couple of months, it feels like thousands of doors over the last couple of months  and I’ve asked people what was most important to them.  And the main things that  I’ve heard was education and roads.  They are really worried about traffic.  They are really worried about education.  And more times than not, I’ve actually heard people talk about full day kindergarten.  They’ve pointed out that we are one of the few counties in the state that does not have full day kindergarten and they think that that is absolutely ridiculous.  Some of them are actually going to kindergartens in other counties or they are paying for private school for kindergarten so that they can have full day.  I think that we need to align ourselves with the other counties in the state, we need to have full day kindergarten, and we need to do what it takes to make that happen.  I would like to echo the comments that were made about teachers not having what they need to do their jobs in Loudoun County.  Many of the teachers that teach my children in elementary, middle, and high school do not live in Loudoun County, they live in West Virginia, they live in Winchester, they live in other areas and we need to do something about that and I think it is about time that we did.  I want to also note that I do have a recommendation from the LEA (Loudoun Education Association).  I will be a very strong advocate for the schools as a Loudoun supervisor. 

Green (D-Catoctin).  This topic alone is worth another hour of conversation.  Philosophically, we are all in favor of full day kindergarten.    We spend a lot of money on buildings and hardware in this county, but we don’t spend enough on the teachers that fill them.    What can we do to get those capital costs down ….  Whatever we can do to get good well paid happy people in less expensive buildings would be a much better thing for Loudoun County. 

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