Though the Prince William County School Board race is non-partisan by law, more than half of its candidates are seeking the Republican endorsement, raising the question among candidates and party members of how political the race may be.
All eight seats on the School Board are up for election and 13 of 22 candidates are seeking the Republican endorsement.
Because of the interest in an endorsement, the Republican committee will hold a meeting July 28 in which committee members will vote to endorse one candidate or make no endorsement at all. The candidate must have a majority of the vote to be endorsed, said Prince William Republican Committee chairman Brian Murphy.
“It’s not realistic to assume that politics doesn’t affect the School Board,” Murphy said.
Questionnaires were sent to candidates by the Republican Committee asking about such issues as school choice and charter schools. One question asks “do you pledge to oppose all tax increases proposed by any authority during your term in office?”
The questionnaires and responses to 12 of 13 candidates can be found at http://www.pwcweb.com/republicans
Once candidates are endorsed by the Republican Committee, their names will remain on the Web site.
“The major thing that the Republican Party is about is getting Republican candidates elected,” said Steve Danziger, who sits on the subcommittee that came up with guidelines and questions for the School Board candidates. Danziger is a past chairman of the Republican Committee.
Danziger pointed out the main difference that distinguishes endorsements from primary elections is “no matter who you select, the other people are still running.”
Jean Gehlsen is a candidate for the Brentsville District seat challenging Milton Johns in the November General election. Gehlsen, who sought an appointment to School Board 11 years ago, said elected boards tend to be more political than appointed ones The first time Prince William voters elected the School Board was in 1995.
“Going through the appointment process was much easier, comparing the two,” Gehlsen said.
“Unfortunately, as much as we would like to think the School Board positions are non-partisan, they truly aren’t,” Gehlsen said in an interview Wednesday. “Experience is showing that a successful candidate has a party endorsement, which is unfortunate because politics do not belong in the schools.”
Gehlsen, who is also listed on the Republican Committee’s Web site, said “the public needs to see what’s out there.”
“It’s critical that people know this,” he said.
The Prince William County Democratic Committee has not posted any School Board candidates’ names on its Web site. However, candidates in other races can be found on the site at http://www.va-democrats.com
The Democratic Committee will only give endorsements if a candidate asks for one. Then the committee decides. If the candidate is endorsed, the name will appear on the Web site, said George Delimba, Prince William County Democratic Committee chairman.
“On the county level, there are no endorsements as of this date,” Delimba said Monday.
In both parties, the candidates will also appear on “sample ballots” that are handed out at the voting booths, according to candidates and party members.
Beauchamp and Woodbridge District representative Steven Keen are seeking the Republican endorsement for the chairman at-large seat.
Beauchamp said more notice has been taken toward the School Board representatives now compared to the first School Board election.
“I think it has become more political,” Beauchamp said, noting she believes the voters will still vote for candidates based on their stance on issues.
Beauchamp calls herself a “lifelong Republican.”
“I think it tells the citizens where I stand on the issues,” Beauchamp said.
She sought her first Republican endorsement in 1999 elections but did not receive it. Beauchamp won both the 1999 and 1995 elections without being endorsed by a party, she said.
Keen is seeking his first Republican endorsement because his opponent, Beauchamp, is doing the same, he said.
“Endorsements have meaning to different people,” Keen said.
Conservative views that Keen supports include “fiscal responsibility,” “educational accountability,” and “school choice.”
It’s no more political now than it was in 1995, Keen said.
“Everybody’s a political person, it’s just whether they’ll admit it or not,” Keen said. “We’re all trying to influence people to see things our way.”
“If one of us is going to have the Republican endorsement, I believe it should be me,” Keen said.
Marilyn Blakely, who is running for Coles District, said she has a different opinion toward running in the race.
“I’m strictly independent. My platform is as it is,” Blakely said.
Blakely has not been actively seeing a party endorsement or approached either party, she said in an interview Wednesday. However, she has welcomed the Prince William Education Association endorsement, she added.
Running in an election is about getting out and “making sure your message is heard,” Blakely said. “When I should be non-partisan, I believe it.”
“It should not be about politics,” Blakely said. “For me, I’m about putting children before politics.”
Donald Richardson has been an active Republican since 1999, he said. Richardson is one of four incumbents seeking re-election. He will run uncontested in the Gainesville District race.
Being endorsed means letting the active Republicans decide who they want to support without having a primary, Richardson said.
“You get identified on the Web site as an endorsed Republican,” Richardson said. “It’s sought out because Prince William is a very Republican county.”
“It is a non-partisan race in the sense you are not identified on the ballot with an ‘R’ or an ‘D,'” Richardson said.
Stephen McConnell has filled out a questionnaire but it is not currently posted on the Republican Committee’s Web site.
McConnell said he has a background of supporting Republicans in the past and feels more pulled the party’s views versus the Democratic ones.
“There is no independence really,” McConnell said. “I believe that every candidate comes from one side or the other.”
The discussion and committee’s voting of School Board endorsements will begin about 7:30 p.m. at the July 28 at the McCoart Administration Center.