GOP backs Keen in School Board race

School board candidates supporting school vouchers and charter schools won endorsements by the Prince William Republican Committee Monday night.

The committee endorsed Steven Keen, who is challenging incumbent Lucy Beauchamp for the chairmanship, and Dumfries candidate Tim Singstock, both of whom are championing private school choice.

Beauchamp, who has the endorsement of the 3,000-member Prince William Education Association, defended her two decades with the party and schools — beginning with the time she pushed a baby stroller campaigning for President Reagan in 1980. The chairmanship is not a political office — she is not in it for politics but the children. “I have the confidence of the community because I put the children first,” she said.

School board races are non-partisan, but in practice many candidates tap into party resources to win. Eight candidates of 22 school board did not seek the Republican endorsement.

Party activist Denny Daugherty asked Beauchamp why she voted against charter school applications twice. She said she did it because in her mind, the school’s staff and infrastructure was working as vigorously as they could to implement the county’s specialty schools and would be taxed by the charter school. Last year’s applicant wanted the county to pay for a new building in six years — the county takes 20 years to buy its own buildings, she said.

Standards are also an issue, she said.

“I do not want any of the Prince William County charter schools to be like Washington or California,” she said.

Keen’s comments could not be reported because of deadline.

More than 150 people attended the meeting. Supporters of charter schools, tax credits and vouchers for private education dominated the questioning of candidates.

Prince William has not accepted any charter school applications, and conservatives say the state-set rules for approval are too strict and need to be loosened.

“Once again, the answer is school choice,” Singstock said, to laughs, because he repeatedly answered it to questions.

“We pay $648 million a year [for public education in the county] and we still have trailers? I think the answer is we need school choice,” Singstock said.

Party activist Denny Daugherty asked Sandy Melson, another Dumfries candidate, why she wrote in her questionnaire that she did not know about charter schools despite her years in education.

“That’s not what I said in my questionnaire,” she said. She is for quality choice, and charter schools should not be done just for the sake of having them. Parents have more choices now than 10 years ago with specialty programs, she said.

Stephen McConnell, the third Dumfries candidate seeking the party nod said if a charter school fails to live up to its commitments, the rest of the system will have to make up the difference.

On vouchers, Gehlsen and McConnell went contrary to questioning. Gehlsen said low-income families will not benefit because they only cover a portion of the costs. McConnell said families who can save up will benefit, but not poorer families. “My mother couldn’t have done that eve if you game me three vouchers,” said McConnell, one of eight children.

In the Dumfries race, the Prince William Education Association has endorsed Mehlsen, McConnell, and Betty Covington.

Occoquan candidate Grant Lattin got the party endorsement over Michael Zeiders for the Occoquan race. Zeiders has the Prince William Education Association endorsement.

Jean Gehlsen, a candidate for the Brentsville seat, was asked where she stands on abortion, and she said it was not relevant to the decision before them that is on school issues.

Milt Johns, also running for the Brentsville seat, was more polished in his talk but asked not to hold it against him that he is an attorney. “I’m running as a parent, as a parent voice.” He said he is pro-life.

Johns got the party endorsement, while Gehlsen has the association’s endorsement.

In the Neabsco race, the committee endosed Julie Lucas by a margin of one vote, who was appointed to the seat with no children but a strong record in party activity, and Jean Smith, a full-time mother. Lucas has the association endorsement.

Both were asked to contrast themselves with the other.

“Oh my goodness,” Smith said, “Beyond the obvious?” She said she could not speak for Lucas.

Lucas said the difference is where they stand on accreditation — she is for getting all schools fully accredited as soon as possible while Smith is for the status quo rate of improvement.

Smith said accreditation is not a race — schools have until 2007 to become fully accredited. There is a lot of good not making the newspapers and focusing on the gap will further a bad reputation, she said.

Michael Otaigbe got the endorsement for the Coles race. Don Richardson, the only candidate in the Gainesville race, got the endorsement. Terry Stockholm was the only of three Woodbridge candidates seeking the party endorsement and won it.