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Surovell: Virginia’s healthy ports affect quality of life in our region

Last week, I joined the Virginia Senate’s Finance Committee in Portsmouth for briefings on Virginia’s economy, revenue projections and other important issues facing the state legislature. More on that later. While in Portsmouth, I toured two significant and under-appreciated Virginia assets.

While neither the shipyard nor the Port is located in Northern Virginia, both have a significant impact on our quality of life and the entire state’s economy. A healthy Port of Virginia has beneficial ripple effects across the whole state.

Newport News Shipbuilding

Newport News Shipbuilding, dating to 1886, is the only facility in the United States capable of constructing an aircraft carrier and one of two in the country that can build a submarine.

We started in the foundry where they manufacture large steel ship components. The level of precision, craftsmanship and quality that goes into making these pieces cannot be understated – it was amazing and there are no do-overs in this process. They walked us through all the steps: they model a wooden replica of the piece packed it in a casing with a plumbing system to facilitate even cooling, pack in sand, fill it with molten steel and cool it. Then, they break the molds apart.

Next, in the facility where submarines are assembled, we saw three different Virginia Class submarines in various stages of construction. Workers assemble four segments in this facility. General Dynamics Electric Boat in Norwalk, Connecticut, assembles other segments. After they complete the segments, they ship them by barge and put them together. Leaders showed us how they have reduced manufacturing time by over a year through efficiencies.

Lastly, we had a drive-by tour of the U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford, the Navy’s next nuclear aircraft carrier –and the U.S.S. Enterprise, which they are decommissioning before tugging it to the West Coast and scrapping it.

Newport News Shipbuilding has its own college which trains workers who earn college degrees. The company has many traditions, including its own challenge coin. It employs 20,000 very proud workers, mostly Virginians, 50 percent of whom are members of United Steelworkers Local 888. Everyone there does incredible work.

Port of Virginia

I also toured two segments of the Port of Virginia, first Norfolk International Terminals (NIT). NIT was alive with activity. We watched people thousands of containers being loaded, unloaded and waiting for pickup or shipment back across the sea.

Port Authority officials described their need for about $380 million in capital investment to keep pace with competing ports in New York, Baltimore and Charleston. Bigger ships are coming after improvements to the Panama and Suez Canals and efficiency is critical.

Next we toured the Virginia International Gateway (VIG). A soybean farm in 2007, today VIG is one of only two semi-automated cargo centers in the western hemisphere.

We watched a series of rail-guided cranes automatically take containers on and off ships and put them onto trucks. When trucks come through the entrance, cranes start to move containers into place for delivery. The only part of the process that is not automated is positioning containers onto the trailer chassis.

The Port currently receives over 5,000 tons of cargo worth over $15 million to and from businesses headquartered in the 36th Senate District. That excludes goods sold at retail stores such as Costco, Walmart, car dealerships and grocery stores.

The Port needs a major capital infusion to automate remaining port facilities, deepen channels, and complete an expansion on Craney Island in order to increase capacity by nearly 700,000 containers per year, about a 50 percent increase.

Next week, I will write about the health of the Virginia economy, the state budget outlook and some major budget drivers facing the 2016 General Assembly convening in January.

It is an honor to serve you in Richmond. Please email me at scott@scottsurovell.org to share your views and questions.

Virginia General Assembly should raise foster care ‘age-out’ age to 21

Letter to the Editor 

November is National Adoption Month in America, a time when our nation celebrates and raises awareness about adoption. While all adoption stories are important, the particular focus of this month is the adoption of children currently in foster care.

There are millions of orphans all over the world who desperately need families. Here in America, there are also children who don’t have the love and security of a stable family.

According to the Health and Human Services Department, there are about 400,000 children in the American foster care system, of which about 100,000 children are waiting to be adopted because their parents’ rights have been terminated due to neglect or abuse. On average, more than 250,000 children enter the foster care system every year. While more than half of these children will return to their parents, the remainder will stay in the system.

Here in Virginia, there are about 4,900 kids in the system, of which about 860 are in need of adoptive families, because their parents’ rights have been terminated. There are a wide range of ages of children who are available for adoption – about 50 percent are 10years-old or younger. Families for siblings are sorely needed as well, as there are numerous sibling groups available for adoption in our state.

Many foster children are at risk of falling prey to human traffickers. They are often targeted by traffickers because of their need for love, affirmation, and protection. Studies have shown that between 50 and 80 percent of commercially sexually exploited children in America are, or were formally, involved with the foster care system.

Each year, more than 20,000 children in America ‘age out’ of foster care without being adopted at all. Although there are some that succeed, the outcomes for most of these young people are very bad. One in five will become homeless after age 18. Only 58 percent will graduate high school by age 19; and fewer than 3 percent will earn a college degree by age 25. And 71 percent of young women who age out are pregnant by 21 years old. Take a moment and read those startling statistics again.

Abruptly faced with living independently, often with no home foundation or family support to offer security, these young people often flounder. Can you imagine being fully on your own at the age of 18, after experiencing years of insecurity, emotional trauma, and even abuse?

A study of teenagers that age out of the foster system in Virginia shows that they are twice as likely to use food stamps (SNAP), and three times more likely to use welfare services, like Medicaid or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), as adults, years after they age out.

The Virginia General Assembly should, as dozens of other states have, raise the foster care ‘age-out’ age to 21 years old to keep them in foster care. This would provide more support for these vulnerable young people, and reduce the risk of them falling into poverty, sex trafficking and crime. Keeping them in foster care increases their chances of graduating, obtaining a good job, and becoming fully self-sufficient. Passing this legislation – Fostering Connections Actwould save the state thousands, maybe millions, of dollars in future welfare and prison spending.

The government manages the foster care system and essentially maintains custody and responsibility of foster children, but there is absolutely no substitute for the role of a family in the well-being of a child and the health of a community. This principle is driven home to me every time I talk to a foster teen or young adult who has aged out of the foster system. They will tell you that they never outgrow the need for a family. I know adults who have aged out of foster care and, in their late-20’s and 30’s, still long for a family to come home to at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Here in Prince William County, we are blessed with dedicated social workers who care very deeply for our foster children. Many of them are over-worked and under-paid, yet they devote their life to counseling and helping the most vulnerable among us. We also have local elected leaders in Prince William who are great advocates for adoption, foster care, and kinship care. In particular, the families of Supervisors Marty Nohe, Jeanine Lawson and Delegate Michael Futrell have personally taken this step and devoted their time to advocate for vulnerable children.

If you have any interest whatsoever in helping the foster care problem in Virginia, please consider learning more about the process of foster care, mentoring or becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).

Each month, the Prince William County Department of Social Services offers informational meetings about the foster care process. One meeting is held on the 2nd Monday of the month at the A.J. Ferlazzo Building in Woodbridge from 6pm to 7 p.m. Another is held every 4th Monday of the month at the Sudley North Government Center in Manassas from 6 p.m. – 7 p.m. Learn more information by visiting www.pwcgov.org. Learn more about becoming a CASA at www.casacis.org.

Don’t let National Adoption Month go by without thinking about the vulnerable children in our foster care system, and how it impacts the future of our state. To prevent the negative outcomes associated with aging out of the system, consider helping with family reunification support, foster care, and foster-to-adoption, or supporting local organizations who engage in this work.

D.J. Jordan is serving a four year term (2013-2017) as a Member of the Virginia State Board of Social Services and lives in Woodbridge.

I-66 tolls would make dad late, mom insane

Letter to the editor

My name is Riley Kotlus and I am an 11 year old student in Prince William County.  

Two years ago my family moved so that we could be closer to my dad’s job so he could get to work faster.  My dad commutes to work everyday.

Most of my friends’ parents commute into work every day. Lots of them work in DC or Tysons Corner. 

Now there are highway bandits in Richmond who want to make I-66 a toll road.  This means that we either have to move out of Prince William County to Fairfax, or parents will have to pay up to $17 each day, or they will have to take roads like 28, which make my dad yell.  

Did you know that in Virginia the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour? That seems like a lot of money to me, but if you have to spend three hours of your money to go to work, then it doesn’t leave you with very much, even if you are a kid.  Also, people who work have to pay taxes, so that is even less money.  

I like when my dad is able to come home earlier because there is less traffic.  If he has to take 28 or 29, he’ll be home later. When he gets home later, my mom has to drive all three of the kids in our family to activities by herself, which makes her completely lose her sanity.

If they make tolls on I-66 and parents drive it to save time, then they’ll have to pay about $4,000 a year to drive to work.  

I like doing swim team, but it is extremely expensive, and if my dad had to pay $4,000 to go to work, then I wouldn’t get to do swim team. I bet that’s true for my friends who swim, too. 

If I don’t do swim team, then I’m not being active, which is what the president and first lady want.  There are lots of reasons why tolls on I-66 are a bad idea, but most of all, politicians should think of the children who don’t want their mom to be crazy, who still want to do swim team, and who just want to make the president happy. 

Anderson traffic think tank would consider all ideas ‘no matter how outlandish’

As I criss-cross eastern Prince William County in my quest to become the next Occoquan Supervisor, people at their doors tell me that traffic congestion is a nightmare and getting worse, especially during extended rush hours and when school is in session.

While our major interstate arteries are clogged, most conversations at the doors are about congestion on Old Bridge Road, Smoketown Road, Davis Ford Road, Yates Ford Road, and similar roadways.

How did we get to this point? The population of Occoquan District has grown exponentially over the last decade. Population growth has outpaced the widening of roads and other ongoing improvements.

It does no good to point fingers or make excuses. We simply need to reach inside for the good inside our citizens and find a way to move people and cars along these roads without constant, frustrating traffic jams.

As I consider the possibility of serving as Occoquan Supervisor, I want to take a visionary approach! Over the course of my 21 years in the greatest military the world has ever known, I liked to think outside the box and work with people who are not afraid to voice unique and innovative ways to solve unsolvable challenges!

I’m one who tries to see beyond obstacles, to see an end state, and to encourage groups of people to come up with innovative and creative ideas in our search for solutions.

The concept of “mind-mapping” is one way of doing this—a technique that examines every option and throws out no suggestion while brainstorming is in process.

In the face of traffic congestion, many throw up their arms and blame developers, elected officials, and county staff for the current problem. Others list solutions that have been talked about for years, but are not viable or have not gained popular support.

I want to surround myself with people who are excited about finding solutions and who relish in the process of envisioning success.

Over the last year, I have explored innumerable suggestions in dozens of forums to hundreds of people—many do-able and some not—but have tossed them out for brainstorming purposes and to generate the creative juices of our fellow citizens and to stimulate conversation in the public square.

I’ve seen many of these solutions across the globe in my military travels and during my humanitarian work in other countries. I’ve seen double-decker roads, bus systems with so many options that people prefer them over cars, Disney World ways of moving people, traffic circles and roundabouts that eliminate stoplights and keep traffic moving, smart timing of stoplights along busy roads, workable telecommuting programs, and a multitude of technological innovations that apply science to traffic.

None of these may be the answer to congestion along our roads in the Occoquan District, but maybe one of these ideas will help us develop our own unique solutions.

If elected, one of my first moves will be to create a citizen’s “think tank” for traffic congestion solutions. It will be a positive, innovative, think tank where all ideas, no matter how outlandish, will be on the table to help us come up with realistic, workable solutions.

Ruth Anderson is running for the Occoquan District seat on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. 

Covington has been an incredible watch dog of our tax dollars

Letter to the editor 

Betty Covington is the right choice for Potomac District, Prince William County School Board. Betty has dedicated her life to helping children, standing up for teachers, giving back to her community. 

It was an honor to serve with her on the school board from 2003-2009.  You always know where she stands, on the side of our students, teachers and parents. 

Every budget season Betty would say, “Pennies turn into dimes, dimes, turn into quarters, etc.” and has been an . 

Betty knows what it is like in the classroom, as an administrator managing a school budget, and has managed the entire school division budget for 12 years. 

Betty is running for the right reason, to help our children receive the best education possible.  Please vote Betty Covington for Potomac District School Board on Tuesday, November 3, 2016.

Julie Lucas served on the Prince William County School Board from 2002 to 2009.

Change needed after Prince William schools’ misplaced priorities

Letter to the editor

Over the past year, I’ve knocked on countless doors across Coles District, telling voters, “I’m running for School Board to prioritize our budget and put more money in the classroom to educate our students.” It’s a simple message, but a focus that will improve our School System. As we prioritize our students, we will achieve the results our community deserves.

While our school system does a lot with the resources it has, there are a number of ways we can do better.

Fifty-seven percent of our property tax dollars go to the school system. Our county deserves to know that every dollar is being maximized. Sadly, many do not have that confidence, and every dollar wasted is an educational opportunity lost for our students.

Our misplaced priorities have created a formula that needs to change. Currently, Prince William County students are barely scoring above the state averages on most standardized tests, yet we also have the highest paid superintendent and the most expensive high school in the region. Superintendent Walts’ annual compensation package is near $400,000. How many of you knew that Prince William County is maxing out retirement contributions to three different retirement programs for Superintendent Steve Walts? We pay approximately $70,000 a year toward his retirement, a staggering amount, and more than most teachers make in a year.

While the superintendent’s compensation package isn’t enough to solve our budget problems, it’s a striking example of our misplaced priorities. We see similarly misplaced priorities in the original plan for construction of the thirteenth high school. Fortunately, just this past month, School Board member Gil Trenum forced school staff to create a high school design that was $3 million cheaper than the original design. The new design also seats an additional 500 students, all while being energy efficient. One has to wonder, if our school staff is serious about overcrowding, why aren’t they proposing designs like this themselves, instead of being forced to adapt after incessant prodding?

When you look at the data, what you find is that every neighboring county is doing a better job than Prince William County in the area of prioritizing instructional costs. This is true regardless of the number of students, or the dollars per student spent. According to the Virginia Department of Education Scorecard, Loudoun, Fairfax, Stafford, and Fauquier counties all spend between 3% and 5% more on instructional costs than Prince William County. If we increased our spending on educational costs accordingly, that would be an additional $30-50 million dollars spent on our students. This level of prioritization would make a huge difference.

As I talk to parents, taxpayers, and teachers across the district, we’ve discussed some areas where we need to improve. We need to reduce class sizes, which would improve teacher-to-student ratios and increase educational opportunities for our students. We need to prioritize special education, and we need to focus on increasing compensation for teachers and bus drivers, so we can reduce turnover and incentivize veteran professionals to continue investing in our system.
These improvements are all possible if we first prioritize our budget. Our students deserve a school board that focuses on getting results for them, and every taxpayer deserves the knowledge that their investment is being used as effectively as possible.

By electing a school board that focuses on prioritizing the school budget the same way we all prioritize our household and business budgets, we will have the ability to reach these goals and provide a better quality education for our students.

Willie Deutsch is running to become the next Coles District representative on the Prince William County School Board.

Hilda Barg taught me there is no room for partisanship in local politics

Letter to the editor 

Maya Angelou once said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

No, this is not 2003 and Hilda Barg is not running for reelection for Woodbridge District Supervisor but having knocked on over 4,000 doors in the Woodbridge District this year, I have gained great appreciation and admiration for her legendary name in Woodbridge.

I have heard countless heartwarming stories of her determination, compassion, listening, serving and bringing people together. Her actions are, to me, what a district supervisor should be and what we need in a Woodbridge Supervisor to return to.

About a month ago I met a woman door knocking in the River Oaks precinct. Currently she is a government contractor, her son is a track coach at a local high school, part time, as well as having a full time profession.

In high school he was an extraordinary athlete and was invited to run on the Great Wall in China. Accommodations and flights are expensive; this woman reached out to then Supervisor Hilda Barg and asked if the county had funds to help with this cost. Mrs. Barg said “No”, but saw what a tremendous opportunity this was for the young man and a way to promote the talented people we have living in our area.

Besides vision, she decided to lead the effort to raise the money by hosting a pig roast fundraiser,on the athletes behalf. She even prepared her what I am told her famous baked beans.

Hilda got things done and the athlete had an experience of a lifetime…at no tax payer’s expense. As Supervisor, she brought Woodbridge together and got results. Route 1 projects we see today were approved under her leadership with the 2006 Road Bond.

It’s poor management of the current supervisor why it has taken nearly 10 years and still not close to complete. With Stone Bridge at Potomac Town Center, [Barg] bought developers, stakeholders, the community and landowners together which created a new cornerstone development for Woodbridge in 2004.

The current Supervisor likes to take credit for her work. Hilda Barg homeless shelter abundantly and compassionately serves our most vulnerable neighbors.

Last December, my then 5 and 2-year-old sons, my office staff I had the privilege to serve dinner to the shelters residents. I sat and spoke with each of the residents. While serving, I met a woman who had a daughter in kindergarten, the same age as my oldest son. It broke my heart to hear her struggles as an immigrant from Africa, living in a car, before it was repossessed, then in and out of temporary shelters. I could tell she was a hard worker, she just needed an opportunity.

She was a Certified Nursing Assistant by trade so I called a friend of mine who owns a senior care-giving business to ask for a job for her and then loaned her a vehicle to get her to and from work. When I retrieved the car a few months later, she had transitioned out of the shelter into a shared single family home, her daughter was attending Featherstone Elementary and she had full time employment.

None of those blessings would have been possible without Hilda Barg. Everyone has something to give. If everyone does something, think how much better Woodbridge will be.

Although I’ve spoken with Mrs. Barg and received her council just a few times during the campaign I hadn’t had the pleasure to personally meet her until the ARC Family Dinner a few weeks ago, she really cares about all people, it was wonderful to witness the love, appreciation and admiration for her. While Hilda is a strident Democrat, she has taught me through her words and deeds, there is no room for partisanship in local politics. Partisanship is divisive.

You can’t be divisive, hold grudges, pick winners and losers as well as build a community. It’s about connecting with people and getting things done, that’s her legacy and that’s the legacy I want to continue as your next Woodbridge District Supervisor.

Steve Chapman is running for Woodbridge District Supervisor.

Conroy knows education and understands the issues

Letter to the editor

I have spent more than forty years working in education – including classroom teacher, administrator, district chief information officer, school board member, technology consultant, and founder of an online high school.  I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours in a one-on-one meeting with Tracy talking about education. 

I asked her, “What is the single most significant factor in determining a student’s success in school?”  She responded, “The student’s home environment.”  According to the research – overwhelmingly the correct answer.  I then asked her what the biggest factor in the classroom was.  She replied, “Keeping the students engaged in learning.”  Right again.  Very impressive. Though these are the correct answers, they are not the answers you usually hear. 

We went on to discuss a number of issues ranging from curriculum and testing to class size, teacher empowerment, charter schools and funding.  I was impressed by both her level of understanding and eagerness to learn more.  She impressed me with her knowledge of Prince William County schools and what the issues and opportunities are in the county. 

She knows education and understands the issues.  After spending a couple of hours with her, I am convinced she is the best candidate for the position of School Board Chair.

I would add one more reason.  The other two candidates have aligned themselves with a political party.  I don’t know for sure, but the odds are that they see the school board position as an entry point for further political offices.  Tracy is running as an independent and is interested in the position because she wants to improve education, not improve her chances for election to a higher office.

Whether you are a teacher, student, parent, administrator, home-owner, or businessperson in Prince William County, I strongly urge you to support and vote for Tracy as chairmen of the Prince William County School Board.

Allan Jones is president of Emaginos Inc.

Townsend will teach Richmond politicians about educators’ plight

Letter to the editor 

Have you ever taught middle school?  Does the thought of it make you cringe? 

On a daily basis, there is an abundance of name calling, raging hormones, finger pointing, dirty tricks and excuses, excuses, excuses.  No, I’m not talking about Richmond politics – but I easily could be.

Sara Townsend has taught middle school.  She’s dealt with little children who aren’t mature enough to play nicely, or wait their turn and not scream and cry when things don’t go their way. 

She’s been the calm voice of reason over the screams of temper tantrums and foot stomping.  She knows what being in a room of adolescent, immature children is like, and that’s why I’m voting for her. 

There has been a lot of talk about how important education is in the Commonwealth from both sides of the aisle, and quite honestly, not enough action.  As a teacher myself, I know that everything from how high my class sizes are to how high my pencil sharpener is from the ground is determined by politics – and that’s why I vote for pro-education candidates. 

I do my homework on the candidates’ positions on education because I know that the decisions on education have a long-lasting effect.  Taxes will go up and down, policies will be enacted and later changed, laws will go on and off the books – but when you dictate how a child is taught – those effects remain a lot longer than anybody’s time in office.

It is time for a change in Richmond.  We finally have a governor that is listening to teachers.  And now, you and I, the residents of District 31, have a chance to elect a teacher – someone who has dedicated their life to education – not politics.  There are enough career politicians in Richmond, and I’m tired of hearing the “Oh, I love teachers” line – and watch them do nothing – or worse. 

I’m tired of adult children telling me how to teach my school children.  I’m tired of people who think that just because they went to school, they think they know about schooling.  I’m tired of policies about education being enacted because of ideology, not reality, and moreover, I’m tired of the same old Richmond.  I want a new, bright future for my students and my Commonwealth. 

I want a new voice to stand up and explain – not fight – but teach those in Richmond what it is like for those of us here in the trenches – teaching thier kids.

We need a teacher in Richmond. We need Sara Townsend.

Chuck Ronco is a high school math teacher in Prince William County and is a resident of District 31.

Letter: ‘It’s out turn to support Wilk’

Letter to the editor

It is my pleasure to write this letter as a supporter of Justin Wilk, who is running for School Board in Prince William County. As a parent, I strongly support Justin because he was an amazing motivator that taught in our school district for six years. Justin Wilk was my daughter’s 7th grade Civics and Economics teacher, at Woodbridge Middle School, Woodbridge, VA.

Justin Wilk always displayed a unique style of teaching, which motivated his students, beyond the time they spent in his classroom. In addition to teaching in the classroom, Justin Wilk coached hundreds of students in track, football, and served as an advisor to the Drama Club, and is now a consultant. As a consultant; he has help administrators to promote transparency;  and improved community relations.  

Over the years, I have had the privilege to volunteer in our Prince William County Schools, whereby I’ve meet many of his former students. All of them share the same positive stories about “Mr. Wilk”. My daughter and about 20 of her former classmates (and his former students) volunteered for his campaign because he supported them. They all said it was their turn to support “Mr. Wilk.

Lastly, Justin Wilk and his lovely wife Lori (also an educator) set such fine examples that my daughter is enrolled as a sophomore education major, in a Virginia public university. She has said, “because of Mr. Wilk I want to be a educator that my students will remember, and give back to my community.”

Jessica T. Wilson lives in Woodbridge.

Letter: Justin Wilk will not quit

Letter to the editor

I first met Justin when I attended Woodbridge Middle School in 2007.

Justin was my track coach throughout middle school and my Civics teacher in the 7th grade, when he became a close personal friend to my family and myself. Justin was able to teach me many things throughout my three years in middle school, whether it was in the classroom or on the track, but there was one thing specifically he said to me that I have never forgotten.

When I was in the 7th grade, I came to Justin before tryouts for that years track season and told him that I didn’t think I was going to run track that year because I also played soccer and was thinking on quitting track so I could focus more on my developing soccer career. I had done well on the team the year before, my 6th grade year, and was a key part in our team’s success but I remember Justin said to me, “I can understand the reasoning behind your decision but if you are good at something, why quit?”

Not only did I decide to run track the next two years I was in middle school, but I improved more and more each year setting new personal records for myself and working harder and harder to make my team even better each year than it was the year before. As insignificant as this may seem, it was not my middle school track career that I am writing to brag about, it was the eight words that Justin said to me that year that I will never forget: “If you are good at something why quit?”

I am now a sophomore in college and have not forgotten those eight words that have had an effect on the person I have grown to be, because not only do they speak volumes to my character, but also to that of Justin Wilk’s. Justin is the right man for the Potomac District because he has a passion for what he does and is good at being a mentor, role model, and leader in our community.

Justin looks to be a new leader that shares the values of our public interests and not those of county lobbyists and special interest groups that have put themselves first for too long. With our help, Justin looks to lower class sizes, improve teacher salaries, and provide more transparency to our community.

Justin is the right man for the School Board because he is not only good at listening to what the people want and putting Prince William County first, but also Justin Wilk will not quit until he has brought the change that our community has been waiting for and deserves.

Keith Griese is a student at Randolph College.

Montclair voter spports Ebert for Commonwealth Attorney

Letter to the editor

I write in strong support of Paul B. Ebert for our Commonwealth Attorney.

Mr. Ebert’s opponent is Mike May. How many criminal jury trials has Mr. May been lead counsel on? Is it 50 or none?

As someone who has worked as a legal assistant at a top litigation law firm in the country, it has been noted by associates, who have jokingly, made the keen observation that I have more experience in the courtroom than Mike May.

Do we the citizens really want a chief prosecutor with no experience just because he is a smooth talker? That is what we call a politician, not a criminal prosecutor. I want someone who knows what he is doing if my loved one, or anyone, happens to be the victim of a crime, not someone who needs on-the-job training.

If May wanted to be a prosecutor, why hasn’t he prepared himself for this specialized field of law? Mr. Ebert is so well trusted that even former Virginia State Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) requested that Mr. Ebert (D) look into his alleged involvement with Jonnie Williams. Even the Republicans turn to Mr. Ebert when they are in search of the honest response.

They do this because in their heart of hearts they know Mr. Ebert is non-partisan. Our county cannot afford a learning curve for its lead protector of the innocent. The common good of all has been served by Mr. Ebert and his staff. I urge voters to keep their families and our community safe.

Get out on November 3 and re-elect Paul B. Ebert – the man that gets the job done with justice, integrity and fairness.

Cathy McCoart lives in Montclair.

Wilk will be an independent voice on School Board

Letter to the editor

Voters in the Potomac Magisterial District have an important choice to make for their school board member. They can return Mrs. Covington to office or they can turn to Justin Wilk.

There are several reasons to support Mr. Wilk. I am probably one of the only voters in [the Potomac District] who had Mrs. Covington as a principal when I attended Dumfries Elementary, but later had Mr. Wilk as a teacher at Woodbridge Middle School. Both were outstanding educators, and cared deeply about their students.  I truly respect Mrs. Covington, but it’s time for a change.

If Mrs. Covington campaigns on her experience we have to ask what we have gotten from it. We have the highest class sizes in the state, children going to class in trailers, the lowest teacher and staff compensation in the Washington region and specialist vacancies that go unfilled because of low pay and high caseloads. We can do better than this.

The administration that brought you this situation has made October Betty Covington month on PWCSTV, their website and Facebook page. We have to conclude that somebody sees this election as a choice between a rubber stamp and an independent voice for students, parents and taxpayers. Voters can too.

Justin Wilk will be that independent voice. He has relevant work experience in community outreach to keep citizens informed and make the school system more transparent. His professional training and background in educational leadership have enabled him to identify problems and propose solutions for school systems all over the nation.  

It is no accident that both of the teacher unions that are active in our community are supporting Justin Wilk. He supports building more classrooms, safe schools, competitive pay and reducing class sizes and caseloads.

If you believe it’s time for a change, your candidate is Justin Wilk. If you have had enough of going along to get along, you want Justin Wilk. If you want transparency in your school system, your choice is Justin Wilk. If you want a school system that really is world class, vote for Justin Wilk.

Brandon Rinaldi lives in Triangle.

Sen. Charles Colgan supports Betty Covington for Prince William School Board

I have known Betty Covington for more than 25 years. Betty has spent a lifetime serving the citizens and more importantly the children of Prince William County.

Her dedication, integrity, and professionalism are without a doubt the finest we have to offer our school children. Betty is an award winning educator who served as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and school board member. She has seen the Prince William County School system from all sides including that of a parent. All three of her children are products of Prince William County Schools.

As a longtime resident of Dumfries, Betty has a clear understanding of the needs of the Potomac District, the challenges facing the schools and the needs of the children. The residents of the Potomac District would be well served to return Betty as their representative on the School Board. 

Charles J. Colgan served as Virginia State Senator for the 29th District from 1976 to 2015.

Letter: Porta familar with issues facing Prince William community

Letter to the editor 

On October 16, I attended the debate held at Lake Ridge Middle School between the candidates for Occoquan District Supervisor, Earnie Porta and Ruth Anderson.

I was struck by the difference in the candidates answers to the questions presented. Mr. Porta was clearly knowledgeable of the important issues facing the district and the county, and presented clear, well thought-out, common sense answers to questions on subjects including traffic congestion and taxes.

His extensive background in community service was evident, and speaks for itself. He is clearly able to step into the supervisor role on day one.

While I admire the accomplished careers of both candidates, only one of them has the relevant community experience, knowledge and skills to serve in this important position. Earnie Porta deserves our vote on November 3.

Barbara Paciejewski lives in Woodbridge.

Wilk is teacher turned mentor, says former student

Letter to the editor

When deciding who would best represent our community and support the families that it consists of, the answer is as clear as a summer sky.  Justin Wilk is an honest, devoted leader who has dedicated immense amounts of efforts to have the opportunity to bring the positive change that this county so greatly longs for.

As a former educator in Prince William County, he has witnessed the issues first hand. He has stood in front of a classroom, one that is overpopulated compared to our competing districts, and struggled to develop teaching methods that accommodate every one of his students.

Despite this hardship, Justin has always found a way to reach out to each and every one of his students and ensure they are receiving a top-notch education. As a past student, I have participated in his classroom culture, and since then haven’t met a teacher that reached me quite like he was able to.

Following the school year, Justin went from being my teacher to a mentor. Even after the classroom door shut, Justin was always right by my side, offering nothing but support and encouragement. This type of individual is who we need to represent on the school board.

Following his teaching career, Justin pursued a job in the private sector, focusing on what he strives for most, education. Currently, he helps collaborate with school leaders to build stronger relationships with the students, parents, and staff. Spending the last 10+ years of his life working in fields revolving around educational prosperity, Justin has become a credible candidate to lead this county in the right direction.

From overpopulated class sizes and elected official transparency, to reaching out to every single student that comes through our county, he has broken down his fundamental issues, and has developed a plan on how he is going to solve them.

The Potomac [District] of Prince William County has had the same representation for many years, it is time for a new voice. There is one person who will use this voice to stand up to whoever needed, and bring the change that the students and their families rightfully deserve.

There is one person who will bring back the truth behind the phrase “world-class” education, and that is Justin Wilk.

Brandon Mills lives in Woodbridge.

Sen. Charles Colgan supports Maureen Caddigan for Prince William Board of Supervisors

Letter to the editor

I met Maureen Caddigan before she entered public life. We first collaborated when she was a member of the Prince William County School Board and worked closely since she has been a member of the Board of Supervisors representing the Potomac District. Maureen and I have worked on a variety of issues to include transportation, public safety and education.

As [a member] of the Board of Supervisors, Maureen understands the need for leadership and working as a team. She does not get involved in partisan bickering and readily reaches across party lines in order to accomplish a goal and improve the quality of life for the citizens of Prince William County.

As a resident of Prince William County for more than 45 years, Maureen is a mother whose children attended our schools, a wife who understands the challenges working families, and a devoted public servant. Maureen has proven time and again that the confidence the voters have placed in her was well founded.

During the course of my Senate career, I have called Maureen Caddigan many times for council and advice because I know she is a woman of integrity, and every decision she makes, she does so with the best interest of the citizens of Prince William County in mind. I am proud to call her my friend and I look forward to her return to the Board of Supervisors.

Charles J. Colgan served as Virginia State Senator for the 29th District from 1976 to 2015.

Surovell supports Medicaid expansion, tough on car title lenders

Letter to the editor

Virginia State Delegate Scott Surovell has done an excellent job in the House of Delegates and is running to replace Senator Toddy Puller who is retiring.

Delegate Surovell has an excellent record as an advocate of all the people. One of his key pieces of legislation bans texting and driving, a life-saving piece of key legislation.

He is also supporting enhanced regulation of predatory car title lenders. He supports expansion of Medicaid coverage for people who do not have health insurance. This key piece of legislation would help to support health care for some 400,000 Virginians, 20,000 of which live in Prince William County. Virginia loses some $1.0 billion per year in federal Medicaid dollars. This also runs down the financial condition of all hospitals, and especially those in rural areas of the State.  

On November 3, please consider voting for Scott Surovell for our State Senator.

Kevin M. Raymond lives in Woodbridge.

Letter: Covington supports disadvantaged children, understands teachers

Letter to the editor 

Prince William County Residents will be heading to the polls in November to choose their School Board Members for the next term. For anyone that truly cares about all children, the choice is clear: Betty D. Covington, School Board Member for the Potomac District.

I have had the privilege of working with Mrs. Covington as a teacher for sixteen years while she was the principal of Kilby Elementary and as an Associate Superintendent while she served on the School Board. I observed firsthand her dedication to and tireless efforts on behalf of the teachers, students, and parents of Prince William County.

Mrs. Covington has always been a supporter of teachers. She has fought for and voted for teacher salaries and benefit packages for the past 12 years.

On March 28, 2012, Mrs. Covington voted for a Board Motion which increased teacher salaries. Her opponent has mentioned this motion but unfortunately he has neglected to include that while the motion had other components, most importantly it contained an increase in teacher salaries.

She has spent most of her adult life being a relentless advocate for education, children and families. As a former teacher and principal, she truly understands the demands placed on teachers and school staff each and every day.

Mrs. Covington is passionate about the students under her care. I have seen her “light up” as she interacts with a young child in a school. At any given time, you may see her reading to students, attending a Back to School Night, or visiting a special program.

She has always been a proponent of early childhood education as illustrated by her long time support of Head Start and her votes for full day kindergarten and for additional preschool classes.

As a School Board Member, she is often involved in issues surrounding students. She never rushes to judgment when confronted with these issues. She takes the time to evaluate the situation, examines all sides of the issue and ultimately makes decisions based on what is best for children. 

Providing all students with an excellent education and a variety of learning and extra-curricular opportunities has been a priority for her as a Board Member. Her support and leadership has helped expand specialty school opportunities, increase advanced learning offerings to include the Governor’s School at Innovation Park, and expand career and technical education classes for not only students in the Potomac District but for all students in Prince William County.

Mrs. Covington has been a supporter of families and has been a strong voice for parents. She is always looking for ways to make life easier for parents and families. As an Associate Superintendent, I remember Mrs. Covington calling me and wanting to ensure that the Dumfries Elementary students received the summer breakfast and lunch program which was available for qualified schools.

Just recently, Mrs. Covington voted to keep the new “Ferlazzo Elementary School a neighborhood school, rather than, a school of choice. Mrs. Covington has contacted churches and community organizations to partner with schools to provide food, clothing, and school supplies. She has continuously supported the STAR program housed at Forest Park High School which refurbishes computers and gives them to disadvantaged families. Mrs. Covington has personally helped many families in their time of need. She is a caring experienced leader who exemplifies what it means to be a public servant.

At the end of the day, based on the examples sited and many more, Betty D. Covington is the best choice for the Potomac District School Board seat.

Diana Lambert-Aikens lives in Woodbridge.

 

Covington supports teachers’ raises and benefits

Letter to the editor

I am the present School Board member representing the Potomac District. I am a candidate for reelection. I have never joined a political party.

I am an Independent. The School Board is nonpartisan. I belong to the Children’s Party. I vote for what I feel is best for our children’s education.

I am responding to some information that my opponent wrote in a previous article. He stated that I was the only Board member running for reelection who voted to add 30 minutes to the teacher work day.

He neglected to say that I am the only Board member running who voted for the teachers’ raises and benefits in that same motion. I suppose only selecting what some have viewed as the negative part of an issue to report is just politics.

Bill Hosp, Prince William Federation of Teachers (PWFT) President, and my opponent’s campaign manager, stated that there was an attitude of teachers being uppity.  That is very insulting to our School Board and to me personally. I have never heard School Board members make those kind of remarks and I definitely haven’t.

I was a teacher for many years and have a lot of respect for teachers. I am still a teacher at heart. My son is a teacher in the county. I have always supported teachers and voted for salary increases and their benefits package every year.

I voted for the 30 minutes added to the teachers’ day because our school system was the only system in the area with a seven hour work day. All other school systems, including Stafford and Fairfax, have a 7.5 hour work day. Having been a principal for 27 years, I know that the majority of our teachers already work more than 30 minutes over their contract day. I felt it was something that they were already doing.

A previous article had incorrect information. It stated that candidates were given surveys and then interviewed by the teachers’ organizations.

When I questioned Bill Hosp, PWFT President, why I did not receive a survey or interview, he stated that my opponent was a member of his organization and that they would never endorse anyone over a member. It appears that membership takes priority over experience and qualifications.

My opponent resigned from his teaching position in November 2013, yet has remained a member of the teacher’s organization. I respect and appreciate our teachers. They are the ones delivering instruction and deserve the credit for our outstanding school system.

I will continue to support reducing class sizes and increasing teachers’ salaries.

Betty D. Covington serves as the Potomac District Representative on the Prince William County School Board.

Foreman says Surovell’s voting record doesn’t add up

Letter to the editor 

Providing for public safety and ensuring our brave men and women in law enforcement have the tools they need to do their jobs effectively is among the top priorities of any elected official.  In the Town of Dumfries, where I serve as Mayor, that responsibility took on added meaning a couple years ago.

As many of you know, the reputation of the Dumfries Police Department took a big hit in 2010 when there was major turnover within the Department, including the Chief and Assistant Chief, following an investigation into wrongdoing and mismanagement by the Virginia State Police and Virginia Department of Criminal Justice, as well as an internal investigation.

After being elected Mayor in 2012, I worked closely with the new Town Manager and Police Chief to restore the image of the Dumfries PD.  As a 25-year Mustang Marine, I uniquely understand the importance of providing strong leadership and clear direction so people can do their jobs effectively. 

To that end, I have forcefully advocated for reforms that would “right” our police department.  My priority as Mayor has been to make sure our police force was the “right size,” was tasked with the “right mission” and had the “right equipment” to do the job and do it well.  In addition, as part of that effort, we also took the following actions:

Placed a School Resource Officer (SRO) at Dumfries Elementary School.  Having one of our police officers serve an SRO has allowed the students to form a relationship built on mutual trust and respect with law enforcement at an early age.

Launched a Police Academy for kids – run every year at no cost to participants.  The 2015 Academy was the largest graduating class with 35 children.

Set aside money in the Capital Improvement Plan for a new police station, while still lowering the town’s property tax rate.

Initiated a bike patrol to allow officers to better move within the community and along running and bike trails, while also allowing more personal interaction with residents.

Instituted a program where police officers attend Homeowner Association meetings on a regular basis to answer citizen questions directly and listen to their concerns.

Thanks to those efforts, I am proud to report that when comparing 2013 and 2014 with 2010, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report shows that serious crimes like rape, robbery and aggravated assault are all down in Dumfries.  That’s a credit to our force and the job they do every day.  I congratulate them on their efforts and am honored to serve our town with them. 

Given the state’s economy flat-lining in recent years, rising crime has increasingly become an issue in many parts of our state, making the need for smart, tough policy out of Richmond even more important to keep our citizens as safe as possible.  Unfortunately, my opponent, a Delegate serving in the house – Mr. Scott Surovell isn’t helping matters.

Here are just a sampling of Delegate Surovell’s head-in-the-sand votes from recent years:

Surovell, a lawyer who defends drunk drivers in private practice, sponsored legislation that would help his potential clients by reducing penalties for convicted drunk drivers.  He also voted against mandatory sentences for drunk drivers who kill someone on the road.

(HB 945, 2014)

Surovell sponsored this bill, which eliminates the requirement that a driver’s license be suspended for one year for an adult first offender with a blood alcohol content under 0.15 and instead requires the offender to have an ignition interlock for one year.  That means that clients who come to Surovell with a BAC above 0.15 could avoid license suspension and instead get an ignition interlock device.)

(HB 49, 2012)

Surovell voted to conceal the identity of convicted sex offenders from being listed on the state registry for crimes against minors, preventing parents from knowing if they moved into their neighborhood and next to schools. Additionally, he voted against allowing life-sentences for child rapists.

(HB 1353, 2015; SB 201)

 Additionally, he voted against allowing life-sentences for child rapists.

(HB 973, 2012; SB 436)

Surovell opposed authorizing use of physical force against intruders. 

(HB 14, 2012)

Surovell voted against “Hannah’s Law,” which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support after the murder of college student Hannah Graham.  The law allows law enforcement officers to collect DNA samples of convicted stalkers and pedophiles to help prevent future crimes.

(HB 1928, 2015)

Delegate Jackson Miller of Manassas said Hannah Graham would still be alive if this bill had become law 10 years ago.)

And while Delegate Surovell was going soft on convicted criminals, he voted to allow the government to use electronic monitoring devices to track the location of law-abiding citizens without their consent.

(HB 807, 2013)

Whether the issue is jobs and the economy, Route 1 improvements, ethics reform or public safety, the election for State Senate in the 36th District this year comes down to whose priorities are more in line with your own on the issues that matter most to you. 

I trust you to make that judgement for yourselves based on the facts.  I have supported Fairfax, Stafford and Prince William counties since elected Mayor; my track record speaks for itself.  I ask you compare Delegate Surovell’s voting record against what he is saying during an election year campaign.

Republican Jerry Foreman is running for Virginia State Senate in the 36th District, to include Fairfax, Prince William, and Stafford counties. 

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