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Candidates crowd the Fairfax Co. school board race

Thursday - 11/3/2011, 12:35pm  ET

Hank Silverberg, wtop.com

FAIRFAX, Va -- Voters in the region's biggest school district will choose between 22 candidates running for 12 seats on the school board Nov. 8.

Whoever wins in Fairfax County will have a big impact on how much residents pay in taxes, what kind of education the county will offer and even the county's ability to lure business.

"We know a lot of companies brought their headquarters here because of the excellence of our school district," says incumbent board member Kathy Smith, who is seeking reelection. She says that is why experience counts.

Half of the current school board has decided not to seek another term. Elizabeth Schultz, who jumped into the race after the board closed Clifton Elementary School, says the turnover will be good because school boards have been unresponsive.

"We aren't seeing the will of people, the voters voices, parents voices, teachers voices being represented by this school board," she says. "I think we need new blood."

But experience does not necessarily mean sticking to the status quo, Smith says.

Fairfax County spends $2.2 billion on schools, about 75 percent of the overall county budget. The district has approximately 177,000 students.

Part of the debate in the current election centers on how the board handled the zero tolerance discipline structure designed by legislators in Richmond.

The policy has led to persistent parental complaints that it was too harsh for minor infractions and in some instances has forced students out of school altogether.

There was discussion on the issue in the General Assembly.

"The FCPS paid lobbyists with my taxpayer dollars to lobby against my parental rights," Schultz says. "A lot of things are really canned type of responses that are a cookie cutter approach to solving problems."

But Smith, who has served on the board since 2002, says budget cuts produced more opposition than the zero tolerance issue.

"That was taking all our time," she says.

When parents raised concerned about zero tolerance, the board did review it and did make changes, which are still being monitored, she says.

You can find a list of all the Fairfax school board candidates here.

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)