Candidates vying for the Providence and Dranesville district seats on the Fairfax County School Board debated a variety of issues — from guns to vaping — at local debates.
Two recent candidate debates hosted by the League of Women Voters-Fairfax Area gave community members a chance to hear from the school board candidates.
The audience questions varied drastically at the two debates — except for the issue of school safety and bullying of LGBTQ students.
Guns in Schools and Active Shooter Drills
Dranesville District candidate Ardavan Mobasheri and Providence District candidate Karl Frisch said that they are worried about excessive school safety procedures.
“Schools are becoming fortresses,” Mobasheri said.
Frisch said that active shooter drills are unnecessarily and cause harm. “I’m afraid we are traumatizing our kids,” Frisch said.
Frisch made a point that telling teachers to put black paper over windows and hiding in the corner is not an efficient measure during an active shooter situation.
Karl Frisch’s opponent, Andrea Bayer, agreed with him that drills are not effective. During the debate, Bayer said that many of the active shooter training drills are costly to the taxpayers and not backed by statistical evidence that shows they work.
“Let’s do the thinking before we invest tax dollars,” she said.
Frisch and Bayer suggested bulletproof glass in the classroom, more efficient teacher training and cameras monitoring the schools.
The other two Providence District candidates — Anastasia Karloutsos and Elaine Tholen — focused on school resource officers (SROs), agreeing that they should have guns.
Tholen said that SROs should be the only people in schools allowed to have guns, while Karloutsos said that guns should be expanded to SROs or retired police officers in elementary schools.
How to Address LGBTQ Bullying
All of the candidates agreed that LGBTQ students should feel safe at school.
“We need to make sure every single student that walks through our doors feels protected,” Frisch said.
Bayer noted that “Fairfax County has always accommodated LGBTQ students.” She said that she’s never heard of any issues.
Tholen, a Providence District candidate, said that she wants to see more community schools, mentor programs and peer-to-peer programs. One of her opponents, Karloutsos, said that mental health counselors could help students struggling with bullying.
Providence District Candidate Debate
At the Providence District Candidate Forum last Wednesday (Oct. 16), popular topics for the school board candidates included vape pen and e-cigarette use among kids, prayer in schools and retention. (Providence District School Board candidate Jung Byun did not attend the event.)
When it came to bus driver retention, Bayer said it’s low “because behavior is a major issue on the bus.”
“I don’t like driving my van. Why would I want to drive a school bus?” she said, adding that traffic leads to frustrated drivers.
Frisch said that bus drivers — and the rest of school staff — need higher wages.
The candidates sparred over how they would approach prayer and vaping in schools.
Frisch said that he supports expanding holidays for Muslim and Jewish kids because kids can lose out on education when they are forced to take off school days for religious holidays, while Bayer said that students have opportunities to practice whatever they want.
“Our schools are freedom of religion not freedom for religion,” Bayer said.
As for vaping, Bayer said that vaping is a parenting issue, while Frisch said he would use his platform, if elected, to educate students on vaping.
Dranesville District Candidates Spar Over Overcrowding, One Fairfax
Karloutsos and Tholen agreed that the principal needs to be involved in the decision making.
While Tholen said that she is supportive of a boundary adjustment that would switch some McLean High School students to Langley High School as a short term solution, Mobasheri said he does not support the proposal.
“McLean [High School] needs an addition,” Mobasheri said, calling for a new high school in Tysons. “It is no longer suburbia.”
While only brought up briefly, One Fairfax — a joint social and racial equity policy of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and School Board — was one of the most contentious topics of the night.
Karloutsos blasted it as a “big issue,” while Mobasheri called it the “21st-century rendition of the Bill of Rights.” (Tholen did not comment during that debate on One Fairfax.)
There were two topics that the three Dranesville District candidates all agreed on — students should be vaccinated and that restraint and seclusion should either be used when there is a threat of imminent danger or never at all.
The election is on Nov. 5.
Ashley Hopko and Catherine Douglas Moran contributed to this story.
The two candidates vying for the Providence District seat on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors faced off last night at the Providence District Community Center.
The League of Women Voters, who hosted the debate, encouraged attendees to submit questions for Democratic Dalia Palchik and Republican Eric Jones, and the candidates didn’t hesitate to disagree when it came to the hot-button issues of the evening.
They compared thoughts on the importance of census data, budgets, sanctuary counties, immigration, renewable energy, panhandling and firearm regulation throughout the evening. Here are some highlights from the debate:
Affordable Housing and a Rising Cost of Living
When it comes to the panhandling in Fairfax County, Jones said people struggling financially in the area should move elsewhere in the country where the cost of living is lower, like Ohio.
“It’s very expensive to live here. there are other places where it’s not so expensive to live,” Jones said. “To some degree, it is simply a choice [on where to live.]”
Palchik took another approach. “I support that we took a step back and said, ‘No, we are not going to criminalize panhandling,'” she said, adding that the county should work to ensure there is enough affordable housing and job security.
On the topic of affordable housing, Palchik said she is looking into coordinating with faith-based organizations to expand affordable housing options, especially for seniors.
Dalia said she wants to focus on fighting for fair wages for county employees, while Jones said he would rethinking policies for zoning and regulation to help small businesses.
Immigration and the Census
Immigration and the U.S. Census were popular topics during the debate.
Palchik said she was pleased when the citizenship question was removed from the census, saying that it encourages more participation. Without responses accurately representing the population of the district, the county would lose out on tax revenue that benefits the community, she said.
“We still have families who fear coming to school to sending their kids to preschool or going to a food pantry, because they are afraid we are collaborating and sharing their information with police,” she said.
Meanwhile, Jones said he believes undocumented immigrants are a danger to the community. “I am especially against sanctuary countries,” he said. “These are especially harmful to our legal immigrants.”
During his time with the U.S. State Department, Jones said he conducted interviews for the immigration process and granted thousands of people citizenship or permanent resident status.
“I believe we should cooperate completely with federal authorities,” he said.
One of the largest issues the candidates clashed on was the implementation of renewable energy. Palchik seemed to be in full support while Jones said the cost would outweigh the benefits.
“I think the so-called New Green Deal is unrealistic,” Jones said, referring to the Green New Deal. “You cannot run the Metro system on wind power, solar power and batteries.”
Instead, he told the audience that he believes in natural gas and nuclear power.
Palchik shifted the conversation, noting her endorsement by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups around the area. Palchik pointed to her time on the Fairfax County School Board, where she launched a joint environmental taskforce with the school board, students and Board of Supervisors.
She said that, if elected, she will be spending time in Richmond working to eliminate solar energy roadblocks.
New Republican Candidate
Jones was a new face for voters. After candidate Paul Bolon’s death in August, Jones was chosen as the new conservative candidate to run against Palchik.
“I’m running to give voters a choice in Providence District,” Jones said during his opening statement. “I wish my friend Bolon was here today.”
Palchik gave her respects after the debate. “I want to thank Mr. Jones for stepping up, I know it was a tragedy.”
The election is on Nov. 5.
With just a few hours left in polling, Tysons-area polls have shown a slow but steady increase in voting throughout the day, particularly in Hunter Mill.
Competitive primaries are underway for the Democratic endorsement for the Providence District, Hunter Mill District, and chairman seats on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
The voter turnout so far in the Providence District is 6.29 percent. The Hunter Mill District, which includes Vienna, is 7.3 percent and is the highest of any district in Fairfax. The Fairfax County average turnout is 5.36 percent.
This year’s primary, particularly the race for the chariman’s seat, has been particularly divisive. One candidate faced an ethics complaint filed by a rival while the Washington Post endorsement raised concerns about sexism.
It’s also been an expensive primary. Every candidate for the Democratic nomination to the chair position has raised over $100,000, with developer Tim Chapman raising $952,109 — mostly through funds Chapman gave to his own campaign. In Hunter Mill, candidate Maggie Parker sits at $258,225 fundraised, in large part with support from Comstock Companies. Two Providence candidates — Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner and Dalia Palchik — neared the $100,000 fundraising mark
If you’re a Fairfax County voter you have a chance to choose the next Chair of your County Board, some new supervisors & new school board members, and also choose between incumbents for Commonwealth’s Attorney, State Senate and State House or their challengers. Just Vote! pic.twitter.com/AA9rFVAgeA
— Mark L. Keam (@MarkKeam) June 11, 2019
At Bonnie Brae polling place. Super weather for Primary Vote today. pic.twitter.com/u7YOMS2Qif
— Sharon Bulova (@SharonBulova) June 11, 2019
The Democratic candidates for the Board of Supervisors are:
Board of Supervisors chair:
Hunter Mill District:
Tysons-area voters will also determine the Democratic nominees for two Virginia Senate seats and the Commonwealth’s Attorney.
The polls are now open until 7 p.m. for today's primary election. While it's a Democratic primary, every registered voter can participate because in Virginia you don't register to vote by political party. #vote #votejune11 pic.twitter.com/b93Vqw9fPm
— Fairfax County Votes (@fairfaxvotes) June 11, 2019
Updated at 5:15 p.m. on 6/13/19 — Corrects the description of the Jefferson Village Association.
As the Fairfax County Democratic Primary winds toward the election next Tuesday (June 11), the fundraising race closes in for some but leaves others in the dust.
Edythe Kelleher, a former member of the Vienna Town Council, led fundraising in April and May with $41,849. Edythe and her husband Gary Kelleher are the leading contributors to the campaign, contributing $10,000 and $20,000, respectively.
Other backers that might be familiar to attentive readers include JDA Custom Homes, a homebuilder based in Vienna, and Douglas D’Alexander, the developer behind the planned redevelopment of the former Marco Polo lot destroyed by arson.
Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner, a planning commissioner representing the Providence District, had previously led the candidates in fundraising. In April and May, Niedzielski-Eichner raised $35,168. Records show Jonathan Cherner, a principal at the Cherner Development Group, and Mark Lowham, CEO of TTR Sotheby’s International Realty, each donated $5,000 to Niedzielski-Eichner.
Dalia Palchik, a School Board member representing the Providence District, wasn’t far behind Niedzielski-Eichner with $31,547 raised. Palchik’s leading backer was the Jefferson Village Association LP — real estate developers in Bethesda, Md. — which donated $15,000.
The first and last candidates to announce in the race both trailed behind the others. Linh Hoang didn’t enter the race until March, and in April and May, Hoang raised $18,514. Hoang’s top contributor was a person named Emily Woo, who donated $5,000.
Erika Yalowitz was the first candidate to announce in the race, but was the last in fundraising for April and May. Yalowitz’ top backer was Timothy Chapman, a candidate in the contentious Board of Supervisors chair race, who donated $5,000.
Photo via Dalia Palchik/Twitter
Dominion Energy will have to wait another month at least before it can look at rebuilding its Tysons power station.
Approval of the station was deferred to June 25 at a Board of Supervisors meeting last week, the latest setback for the facility on Tyco Road in northern Tysons.
“The Dominion Power Station in Tysons will be deferred again,” Providence District Supervisor Linda Smyth said. “We are in the midst of some interesting legal discussions about who gets the right to decide what sort of stormwater management they do, which is an interesting discussion.”
The staff report on the project notes that the site, which is almost entirely covered with concrete, deviates from the full inch of stormwater infiltration required in the Tysons Comprehensive Stormwater Management Plan.
“Opportunities for infiltration on this site are limited as infiltration is not practical within the fenced substation confines,” staff said in the report.
Smyth could not be reached for comment, but Dominion Energy spokesperson Charles Penn said delays to sort out the minutia of power stations are not unusual.
“From a regulatory standpoint, Dominion Energy’s projects almost always involve an intersection of federal, state and local laws and regulations,” Penn said. “In this instance, we are working with the county and certain state agencies to accurately confirm where the regulatory responsibility rests with respect to certain engineering details of the substation that will be reviewed after the special exception process is complete.”
Smyth also noted at the meeting that the June 25 meeting will be jam-packed with public hearings, to which Chairwoman Sharon Bulova advised her colleagues to bring sleeping bags.
The Providence District Democratic Committee has voted to endorse Karl Frisch to represent the Providence District on the Fairfax County School Board.
The incumbent Providence District School Board Member Dalia Palchik is currently embroiled in her own heated race for the Board of Supervisors, leaving the School Board seat open to a competitive election.
Frisch is a Democratic strategist and the executive director of Allied Progress, a non-profit issue advocacy organization in D.C.
The committee voted 127 in favor of Frisch and 79 for the other candidate, Jung Byun.
Thank you Providence District Democratic Committee! I am honored to be the Democratic candidate for Fairfax County School Board in Providence District this November and incredibly grateful for the help and support of so many people that made tonight possible — especially Evan. pic.twitter.com/Tz6TljLQS9
— Karl Frisch (@KarlFrisch) April 24, 2019
The centerpiece of Frisch’s campaign was applying the principals of the Green New Deal to Fairfax schools, making the schools operate in a more environmentally friendly way. Frisch’s proposals include adding more solar panels to school buildings and converting to electric school buses.
Byun congratulated Frisch on Twitter after the race and encouraged her supporters to back Frisch in the general election on Nov. 5.
Photo via Facebook
Since July, the Virginia Department of Elections reports that the candidates have raised:
- Dalia Palchik: $92,041
- Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner: $59,700
- Erika Yalowitz: $35,718
- Edythe Kelleher: $33,609
- Linh Hoang: $15,941
While the campaign finance reports would show Palchik with a substantial fundraising lead, according to the report a $39,450 contribution was made on Jan. 15 from the “Friends of Dalia Palchik” campaign committee.
“As with some other races, I transferred funds I was raising under my prior account to my new account for Supervisor,” Palchik wrote in an email. “This was done after consultation with the Board of Elections as to the best way file my records. Therefore, all funds for my campaign are now under the new account, but the transfer reflects all of my funds raised to date, including those raised prior to Jan 15.”
If the funds shuffled from one campaign committee to another are excluded, Palchik’s fundraising total would be $52,591 — putting her in second place behind Niedzielski-Eichner.
The reports also show campaign contributions from several prominent local Democrats. On Dec. 21, Niedzielski-Eichner received an early Christmas gift from the ‘Friends of Linda Smyth’ — the campaign fund for outgoing Providence District Supervisor Linda Smyth — in the form of a $23,325 contribution.
Palchik has also raked in funding from other Democrats, though, like a $500 contribution from outgoing County Board Chair Sharon Bulova’s election campaign on March 11. Palchik also received funding from Alexandria City Councilman Canek Aguirre.
Kelleher received $500 in support from Mason District Supervisor Penelope Gross. Nearly two-thirds of Kelleher’s fundraising total — $20,000 of the $33,609 total — is from Kelleher.
No incumbent members of the Board of Supervisors show up in Yalowitz’s fundraising tally, but there is a $650 contribution from the local PAC Brass Ovaries and a $200 contribution from former lieutenant governor candidate Gene Rossi, who has recently raised the topic of running for office again in the wake of the scandals in Richmond. Yalowitz has also spent a total of $5,502 on her own campaign.
Hoang trails the other candidates in fundraising. Hoang entered the race late, and “Friends of Linh Hoang” doesn’t report any contributions prior to March 26.
The primary will be held on June 11.
The Providence District is growing rapidly — in no small part because of Tysons — but a recurring theme at the debate between the Democrats running for the Board of Supervisors is that growth is leaving many in the area behind.
During a forum on April 1 at Jackson Middle School, the five candidates running to replace Supervisor Linda Smyth found themselves mainly in agreement on issues like affordable housing and Amazon coming to Arlington, though the solutions and concerns varied between candidates.
On affordable housing, School Board member Dalia Palchik said Fairfax County should be doing more to turn office vacancy into affordable housing.
“Other jurisdictions [are doing more] to repurpose offices into mixed-use housing,” Palchik said. “I want to make sure we are able to do it.”
Palchik also noted that Fairfax County’s affordable housing fund is only around $7 million while neighboring Arlington’s is around $25 million, though others like former Vienna Town Council Member Edythe Kelleher were more direct in saying the County may need a tax increase to pay for more affordable housing.
“It all starts with housing affordability,” said Kelleher. “People’s other burdens are related to that. I recommend another full penny [on the tax rate] for affordable housing.”
Erika Yalowitz, a candidate from the Tysons area, said the County might need to increase the tax rate by two or three pennies specifically to meet affordable housing needs. Yalowitz also said the County needed to do more to help make rezoning for potential residential properties easier.
Linh Hoang, a fairly new candidate to the race, said the County should do more to work with local churches and build on church properties.
Only Phil Niedzielski-Eichner, who currently represents the Providence District on the Planning Commission, urged some caution on how increasing the tax burden could inadvertently impact residents most in need of assistance.
“It’s resolvable through creativity and innovative investments,” said Niedzielski-Eichner. “I like the ideas I’ve heard from my colleagues… but when we talk about increasing cost of taxes on homeowners, we have to bear in mind that there are homeowners who no longer have income coming in and they see property values increasing. There needs to be an attention paid to having those individuals cap their taxes.”
Niedzielski-Eichner noted that the crisis of affordable housing in Tysons was driven partially by an increasingly high demand — and cost — of land in the area.
It’s a topic that came up again when the discussion focused on a Fairfax County Public Schools plan to potentially build a new elementary school on Blake Lane Park near Vienna. All of the candidates, including Palchik, expressed doubts about the prospect.
“I understand the needs of schools but do not support building a school on Blake Lane Park,” Yalowitz said. “When a park is gone, it’s gone for good. Building onto parks is not the best way to build sustainable growth.”
Kelleher said that the site was proffered 42 years ago to be used as a school one day, but that it has since been used by the public as a park and should only be used as a school as an absolute last resort.
Finally, all of the candidates expressed a cautious enthusiasm for Amazon’s announcement of a large new office campus in Arlington.
“I think it’s really exciting that Amazon is coming to our region,” Hoang said. “It’s going to spur economic development, but we need to work with jurisdiction to bring those good jobs here.”
Niedzielski-Eichner said Amazon’s arrival was part of an essential economic diversification for an area he sees as overly reliant on the federal government for the vitality of the economy. But Niedzielski-Eichner also argued that the company’s arrival also puts lapses in the area’s infrastructure planning in the spotlight.
“But when we talk about growth, have to do it smart,” Niedzielski-Eichner said. “We have too wide a gap between when projects are approved and the infrastructure is built to support that project. Need to narrow the gap between development and infrastructure.”
Palchik also tied the question of Amazon’s impact in with earlier discussions on affordable housing.
“It will impact our economy but it will create new challenges,” Palchik said, “especially on the eastern side of Providence and especially when it comes to affordable housing.”
The primary will be held on June 11. The final voter registration deadline is on May 20.
Photo via Twitter
An autonomous shuttle bus between Merrifield’s Mosaic District and the Dunn Loring Metro Station could become a reality, as part of a pilot program pursued by Fairfax County.
Providence District Supervisor Linda Smyth said state officials were in discussions with county economic officials about applying for a grant to bring the project to Fairfax, InsideNoVA reported. But so far, little about the potential project seems set in stone.
A report to the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 12 said Fairfax County was looking at partnering with Dominion Energy and the Virginia Transportation Research Council to introduce a route for a connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) program.
The project aims to be a “first-mile, last-mile mobility solution” to connect Metro stations with emerging activity centers. As anyone who has walked from the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station to the Mosaic District knows, it’s just far enough to be a pain.
According to the report:
The CAV pilot is intended, in part, to be an important component of VDOT’s broader vision and policies regarding the development and deployment of CAV technology and related demonstration projects throughout the Commonwealth.
The new shuttle would be implemented alongside other public transportation services in the area to assess the viability of CAV shuttles. The report notes Arlington, Texas, as an example of another location to use CAV programs to operate a shuttle service.
The grant money for the program would flow through the state’s Department of Public Rail and Transportation, and be included as part of the Fiscal Year 2020 grant cycle.
Meanwhile, in Reston, self-driving cars could be hitting the street by June.
Photo via City of Arlington, Texas
The election to replace Linda Smyth as Providence district supervisor just turned into a four-way race — two veterans of Fairfax government have thrown their hats into the ring for the Democratic primary in June.
This week, Planning Commissioner Phillip Niedzielski-Eichner and former Vienna Town Councilmember Edythe Kelleher both announced that they will be running for the Smyth’s seat. The two join Tysons resident Erika Milena Yalowitz and School Board member Dalia Palchik, who announced last month that they would be running for the seat.
“I love the idea of participating in the defining of a new future for Fairfax,” said Niedzielski-Eichner . “It’s a great time for us to look for the future and make sure we’re on the right track. The second piece is we’ll have five new members and one new chairman. It’s critical we have strong leadership — leadership that I bring to the table based on breadth and depth of experience.”
Niedzielski-Eichner is a former Fairfax County School Board member and current planning commissioner. Niedzielski-Eichner was appointed to represent the Providence District in 2017.
“The Planning Commission provides the experience in land use and meeting those challenges, that’s the place where you really get an understanding of how land use impacts the county,” said Niedzielski-Eichner. “But the Planning Commission advises, they don’t decide. I want to be in a position to be part of that decision process.”
Kelleher now lives 1.5 miles from where she did in the early 2000s, which shifts her from Vienna to the Providence District.
“A lot of the issues are the same,” said Kelleher. “I worked with a lot of Providence issues. Vienna is surrounded on three sides by the Providence District.”
Kelleher said her experience on the Town Council has given her unique executive decision-making experience. In particular, Kelleher said during her seven terms on the Town Council she was part of the budgetary decision making during the recession.
Tysons’ comprehensive plan is coming up on its 10-year anniversary, and both candidates said it’s time to take another look at the plan.
“We’ve had 10 years of comprehensive plans,” said Niedzielski-Eichner. “I’d like us to get an assessment of where we are in relation [to what was planned].”
Niedzielski-Eichner said looking at the transportation aspect of the plan is going to be particularly critical, particularly in terms of implementing the planned grid of streets.
“[Tysons] has got to be a walking urban center,” said Niedzielski-Eichner. “We need to strengthen our ability to be pedestrian friendly. That means putting public facilities in place for the center to grow around it. “
“My concern [with the plan] was at the time, and still, has to do with things like recreational space,” said Kelleher. “The original plan did not call for anything other than pocket parks and public plazas. I thought with an area that large, there would be a need for real playing fields. I expressed that and advocated for that, and that was included in the final plan.”
Kelleher noted that traffic issues also tie in with the availability of housing around Tysons. If more mixed-use buildings can be developed at a wider range of prices, Kelleher said more people working in Tysons will be able to live and shop there too, hopefully getting more cars off congested local streets.
Both candidates have said they are hoping to host kick-off events soon, but neither has concrete plans at the moment.