generic school classroom

Prince William’s two teacher unions agree on some candidates for school board in the upcoming Nov. 3 election, but have parted ways in a few key races -- including the countywide contest for school board chair.

The Prince William Federation of Teachers has endorsed Ryan Sawyers, who has the support of local Democrats, over opponents Tracy Conroy, who is running without partisan support, and Tim Singstock, who has the backing of the local Republican committee.

The Prince William Education Association, however, has declined to pick a candidate to replace outgoing school board Chairman Milt Johns because none of the three candidates won a majority of votes cast by members of its political arm, the Political Action Committee for Educators, according to Jim Livingston, PWEA and PACE president.

Bill Hosp, president of the 100-member PWFT, said his group likes the leadership experience Sawyers, a small business owner and former college baseball coach, brings to the position.

But Livingston said PACE, which represents the 4,000-member education association, has reservations about all three candidates. Regarding Singstock, a resident of Montclair who ran unsuccessfully for school board in 2003, PACE members expressed concern about ideology and his “possible support” for both charter schools and publicly-funded school vouchers, Livingston said.

Regarding both Sawyers and Conroy, PACE members are wary about their lack of leadership and political experience.

Conroy, who lives in Bristow, is a registered nurse and ran the “Our Schools” Facebook blog prior to entering the race for school board chairman last spring.

“Although [Conroy] has followed the workings of the school board for some time, there was a lot of discussion about her ability to organize and build consensus because she doesn’t have a background in that type of thing,” Livingston said.

“For Sawyers … it was much the same. There were some folks that had some concerns that he didn’t have the background that might be necessary,” Livingston added. “There was a lot of discussion that the school board commands an even larger budget than the board of supervisors. Without any real leadership experience, quite honestly, that gave the committee pause, and they did not feel comfortable recommending one over the other.”

PWEA members are further concerned that none of three candidates fully grasps the scope of Prince William County schools’ funding crisis, which Livingston and others have said is too severe to be solved by simply reprioritizing school-division spending, as many candidates have suggested.

Teachers are underpaid and overworked and beset by the some of the largest class sizes and student caseloads in the state, Livingston said.

“We cannot solve the financial problems of the school system simply by making cuts, we just can’t do it. As we see it, we’re cut to the bone right now,” he added.

In other contested school board contests, the unions also disagreed on candidates in the Neabsco and Occoquan district races.

In Occoquan, the teacher federation endorsed incumbent board member Lillian Jessie, who has received the support of local Democrats. But the education association’s PACE membership declined to issue and endorsement, Livingston said, because none of the three candidates received a majority of votes. Jessie faces two challengers: John Gray, endorsed by local Republicans, and Karen Boyd, an independent.

PWEA also declined to endorse for the Neabsco district seat being vacated by school board member Lisa Bell, who is not running. The federation, however, will back Joseph George because of his enthusiasm for the job and because of his past involvement in parent groups at his children’s schools, Hosp said.

George is running against Diane Raulston, who has been endorsed by local Democrats.

In the Potomac district, both unions endorsed former middle school teacher Justin Wilk over retired principal and longtime school board member Betty Covington, who is seeking a fourth term as in the Potomac district.

Hosp said Wilk got the federation’s nod both because he is a member and because of the community-outreach experience he’s gained as a consultant with K12 Insight, which advises school divisions across the country.

Hosp also said Covington’s vote to support a 2012 teacher-contract change that tacked an extra half-hour to the teacher workday in exchange for a modest pay increase was a blow to teacher morale.

“They tried to sell it as more time to do planning but that’s not how it worked out in practice,” said Hosp, noting that most teachers routinely stay longer than their 7.5-hour contract day or bring work home. “It was really perceived as some kind of smack down for [teachers] being too uppity.”

Covington’s vote on that issue was also part of the PACE discussion, Livingston said. But members were also “just looking for change” in the Potomac District.

“Betty’s been a longtime supporter of kids and schools and continues to be,” Livingston said. “But Mr. Wilk had more votes in the room when it came down to it. There were a lot of discussions about that race.”

The two groups also agreed on William F. “Bill” Reeder, who is running to replace outgoing school board member Michael Otaigbe in the Coles district. Reeder, who recently retired as a dean at George Mason University, faces Republican-backed Willie Deutsch and Reginald Henderson, who has been endorsed by local Democrats.

“[Reeder] has a vast background in education and that was very gratifying to the committee,” Livingston said. “He understands what it’s like to be in a classroom, he has k-12 background and he has an outstanding command of the issues facing public schools.”

School board members Gil Trenum (Brentsville), Alyson Satterwhite (Gainesville) and Loree William (Woodbridge) are running unopposed.

Both unions sent surveys to all candidates and conducted follow-up interviews with those who responded. According to Livingston and Hosp, individual members of the two groups’ political committees cast votes for the endorsements.

Although teachers’ unions do not have collective bargaining rights in Virginia -- a “right-to-work” state where union membership can’t be compelled – both the PWFT and PWEA are affiliated with national teachers’ unions and call their groups unions.

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(11) comments

JoeDaBeast

Thank you for the report Jill. Anybody that needs to know more about me (and willing to contribute to my campaign) you can find me at www.josephgeorge4neabsco.com.

robinhood

VPAP.ORG indicates that you have a TOTAL of $1 on hand. IF I contribute $1, your TOTAL cash on hand will double. IF soooooo many folks are supporting you, how come NOBODY is willing to contribute to your campaign? I mean, $1.

Perhaps you should spend a little time roaming the streets of Dale City, collect some aluminum cans and turn the cans into some money. LOL

JoeDaBeast

Amazing that you continually provide information with zero or inaccurate facts.

Piedmont reporter

Occoquan School Board candidate John Gray should not be elected. He is one of the cyberbullies on the local PWC Hate Sites. A school board rep needs to be someone who has the students,teachers, and county school staff best interests at hand, not someone who spends countless hours on blogsites go after PWC elected officials. If you take a look at Gray's school board VPAP report you will see whom he will be beholden to.

Citizen52

Does anyone even care what the "unions" or education associations endorse aside from their leadership? Read about the candidates and form your own opinions, teachers.

Kevin Raymond

Thank you Jill. You are one of the few sources of objective information in these important elections. Please continue to bring all the facts to voters' attention!!!

not into politics

Nice to know that partisan politics are still alive and well in PWCPS. When was the last time that a person other than a democrat was endorsed? Maybe this is why professional educators are not necessarily interested in supporting unions anymore...???

Krazykyle

I'm fairly certain not all of the candidates endorsed were democrats. In fact, it appears that some democrats like Lillie Jessie were explicitly NOT endorsed.

JoeDaBeast

I see that robinhood is classic for making statements with zero or inaccurate information.

DaTrueBeast

JoeDaBeast, as of 9/25/15, VPAP.ORG, indicated that you ONLY had $1 in your campaign account. In your own words, 'I see that robinhood is classic for making statements with zero or inaccurate information", how about the following facts which is also 100% CORRECT?:

Diane Raulston is the ONLY Prince William County Democratic endorsed Candidate for Neabsco District School Board. In fact, it is very, very, very interesting that neither the Republicans nor the Independents have endorsed you.


robinhood

DaTrueBeast,

Your truthful statement about DIANE RAULSTON being the ONLY 'ENDORSED' Neabsco School Board candidate by the Prince William County Democratic Committee SCARED off Joseph 'Pillsbury Doughboy' George who has EVERY right to tell anybody that he chooses that he is a Democrat. However, NEITHER the Prince William County Democratic Committee NOR the Neabsco Democratic Committee has endorsed Joseph George.

Why is that? For the same reason that NO political party has endorsed Joseph George, he simply DOES NOT qualify as a quality and/or experienced candidate worth supporting.

Yup, THE TRUTH HURTS, but the truth is the truth is the truth.

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