When the new year rolls around, Manassas will have two new school board members.
Vice Chairman Kristen Kiefer and Scott Albrecht, whose 20 years on the board made him the longest-serving member, both declined to run again in this month’s election. Taking their seats will be Christina Brooks and Carl Hollingsworth Jr.
Brooks, a former elementary school teacher with Falls Church City Public Schools, currently works on the artistic staff for the Manassas Ballet Theatre. She decided to run a write-in campaign when someone told her there were only three declared candidates for four open slots. Two-hundred and seventy votes later, she is set to become a member of the school board.
Hollingsworth, meanwhile, is a retired U.S. Army veteran whose three children either currently attend or did attend Manassas public schools.
The school division staff is working on a plan for the return to in-person learning for most students, but a timeline has not been finalized. In interviews with InsideNoVa, neither Hollingsworth nor Brooks took any firm position on returning most students to classrooms while COVID-19 cases surge across the region and country.
Hollingsworth, who graduated from Chantilly High School in 1992, said he and his wife moved to Manassas in 1999.
“I just retired from the military last year, and I have some time on my hands, and I’m not one of those parents who sits around complaining all the time. If I see something that’s not right, I want to be a part of the solution,” he said. “Manassas city has been so great to myself and my family.”
Hollingsworth said he’s been consulting with Superintendent Kevin Newman and longtime school board member Tim Demeria to understand the lay of the land. He praised Newman and the school board.
“I think they have a good chemistry right now,” Hollingsworth added.
Brooks has teaching experience in Hawaii, San Diego and Falls Church, but she began working at Manassas Ballet Theatre about 10 years ago. Among other things, she helps to run the organization’s educational outreach program, which, along with the theater’s shows, has moved into the virtual realm since the pandemic began.
Brooks said she wanted to return to the educational field while keeping her full-time job with the ballet company. She’d thought about running for school board before but said she couldn’t make the time.
One of her priorities will be arts programming in schools.
“It’s a way for me to be able to give back to the community and still be part of the education system but not necessarily have to ditch the arts,” Brooks said. “I really want the arts to stay alive in our community, but I thought serving on the school board would be a nice fit.”
When both Hollingsworth and Brooks take their seats in January, the board will already be in the thick of developing the division’s next budget. Work sessions have already begun, but much uncertainty remains about state and local funding following the pandemic-induced recession.
Newman and others have long maintained the goal of increasing the division’s teacher salaries to remain competitive with surrounding systems, but the current $126 million budget included only a 2% cost-of-living increase for division staff. According to the Virginia Department of Education, the system’s average budgeted salary for the 2020 fiscal year was $68,415, $8,404 less than Loudoun County schools and $1,082 behind Prince William County schools.
Over the past decade, the division has grown by about 100 students per year, increasing its funding needs. But state and local support has largely remained flat with inflation.
At the same time, the percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch has almost tripled since the 2005-2006 school year, growing to 65%. The district also has the highest percentage of English-language learners of any school system in the state at 49%.