Keen pledges fiscal accountability if elected

The politics for School Board races this year solidified Monday when the Republican Party endorsed Steven Keen for chairman of the county School Board.

Keen is running on a conservative Republican stance that competition and choice improves public schools — if parents chose to stay the system knows immediately that it is successful.

He won out over Lucy Beauchamp, another Republican, who has served as chairman for nine years. Conservatives have grown dissatisfied with her because she voted against allowing charter schools in Prince William in 2001, she spoke in favor a getting more state funding for schools in 2002 through a tax, and she favored a meals tax in 1994.

“I have not backed higher taxes to support schools,” Keen said. If the school system wants to add new programs such as all-day kindergarten, it is a matter of setting priorities, he said. “The needs are always going to be greater than the resources.”

Among his highest priorities if elected would be to guide the new board, with at most two returning district representatives, in setting up a strategic plan that better specifies how goals will be met than the current plan.

Beauchamp said she is disappointed the Republican Party has an agenda. “They did not seem to consider candidates for the children,” she said. She said she is fine with not getting the endorsement — the campaign is not over. November decides who wins, she said.

She said she supported the meals tax in 1994 because the school board had schools without air-conditioning and in need of critical repairs and maintenance on years of delays. County supervisors only offered that solution, she said.

“Everybody says they have no choice when it turns out to be unpopular later,” Keen said. He said warnings of middle school athletics being eliminated and critical repairs to schools going undone all never came to pass.

Beauchamp said choice within the system has shown to be a draw: specialty programs are drawing students from home-schooling and private schools. The system is up 2,318 new students over the course of this past year, she said.

Prince William Democratic Committee Chairman George Delimba said the party’s district committees will be making endorsements in the next few weeks.

“We’ve talked to Lucy Beauchamp over the years … to try and get her to switch sides because policy-wise for the most part we feel she is a pretty good advocate for teachers and reducing class size,” said Delimba, who lives six doors down from Keen in Woodbridge.

A sharp distinction on which party supports public schools and which doesn’t will favor Democrats, he said.

He said Republicans’ fixation on expanding Pennington School’s traditional phonics education countywide and charter schools are a distraction away from the real way schools are improved: more teachers, smaller class sizes.

Keen said that costs money, and county taxpayers cannot be asked to pay even more after double-digit assessment increases.

“It is irresponsible for a school system to say they need it so you need to cough it up,” he said.