Covering the Greater Prince William County, Virginia Area

Letters

Why Democrats will not particpate in Prince William Committee of 100 candidate forums

Opinion 

As many know, the Prince William Democratic candidates for this November’s General Election are not participating in any forum, debate, etc, hosted by, sponsored by, or co-hosted by the Prince William Committee of 100.

This was a unanimous decision by all 27 Democrats running for office in Prince William. The reason?

Shortly after being elected President of the Committee of 100, James Young posted a venomous attack on homosexuals. Mr. Young is, of course, entitled to his political views, and he need not forfeit them simply because he is president of the Committee of 100.

He is free to publicly oppose gay marriage, adoption of children by gay couples, and a host of other policies targeting homosexuals. His rant, however, was not a political policy statement, but a hateful and vitriolic assault on homosexuals as people, employing the type of language that has been used in the past to both provoke and rationalize violence against them.

It was not only an offense to common decency, but totally inappropriate for the president of an organization devoted to civil discussion of issues. It is now simply impossible for a gay person to feel that they are welcome in the Committee of 100.

The organization’s application might as well now read “Homosexuals Need Not Apply.” When I first learned of Young’s public tirade, I called him and reminded him that historically the Committee has been open and accepting of anyone and that his rant as the face of the Committee will undoubtedly have repercussions.

The solution was relatively simple: Mr. Young need not resign as president, but he should apologize for the language he used. Subsequently, I resigned as Treasurer of the Committee, as did the Vice President and several other members of the boards; numerous others will not be renewing their memberships this month.

The Committee of 100 has served Prince William valuably for more than 25 years, hosting programs and candidate fora, and for candidates who have been active in the Committee this has been a particularly sad development. Unfortunately Mr. Young has singlehandedly tainted the organization and no candidate felt they could in good conscience implicitly support an organization whose leader has so viciously attacked our family members, friends, and others in our community

Speech is free, but not without consequences, and it would be intolerable if comparable language was used to describe African-Americans, Jews, Latinos, Muslims, or other minority groups – it is intolerable in this instance as well.

We can only hope that the Committee of 100 will someday return to its mission as a place for the civil discussion of important issues. The good news for voters in the meantime is that numerous organizations are sponsoring debates this year with ample opportunity for the voters to hear candidate’s positions on the issues facing Prince William County in an environment where everyone is welcome, regardless of their sexual orientation.

 

More access to clean solar power for Virginians

Opinion

Last week, the State Corporation Commission (SCC) approved an innovative solar program proposed by Dominion Resources, a project that will enhance consumer choices and facilitate clean, renewable energy production for many Virginians.

As Virginia implements the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, the state’s utilities  need to transition to systems that reduce carbon emissions and deliver reliable, affordable power to  homes and businesses.

Carbon-based energy sources like coal are the largest contributors to global climate change. Traditional fossil fuels can also produce mercury and ozone pollution.  We have some of the unfortunate consequences of coal-powered electricity right here in Northern Virginia.  At Possum Point near Dumfries and Quantico in Prince William County, there are coal ash dumps in the form of five ponds near the Potomac River.  Coal ash is well known to leech lead, boron and hexavalent chromium into ground water. This type of “storage” can also result in massive pollution spills. 

Natural gas is another alternative, but it too emits carbon dioxide when burned.  And producing natural gas by fracking is well-documented to cause ground water pollution and can even cause water to catch on fire.  In addition, the infrastructure to transport natural gas requires pipelines and condemnation or forfeiture of private property. 

Solar energy does not have these shortcomings.  Due to declining manufacturing costs as factories achieve economies of scale, solar power has increasingly become the preferred energy source of choice for many homes, businesses and utilities.  Solar also promotes individual freedom as Virginians can live off the grid and produce their own power on their own terms. 

Unfortunately, existing Virginia law only allows a customer to net the energy generated by a solar panel directly against a meter connected to the panel.  This means that solar is not available to everyone. 

Solar is usually not economical for homes in neighborhoods with significant tree cover.  Also, it is usually not available if you do not own your roof, such as apartment or condominium buildings.  Most businesses hesitate to make a significant investment in solar if they do not own their roof and most landlords are not incentivized to install solar because the tenants pay the electrical bills.   

Making solar more available

Given these obstacles, one solution I have championed over the last six years has been what’s commonly referred to as community solar or “solar gardens.”   Some states allow groups of consumers or businesses to pool their capital, construct solar panels on a third party’s property and then collectively net the energy generated by the panels against their individual meters.  This is a net win for individuals, businesses and the third party who can receive more return on their property.  However, Virginia’s investor-owned utilities have consistently opposed this because it undermines their monopoly. 

Because of our pressure, Dominion recently received approval to construct two megawatts of solar panels which they will resell to consumers and businesses in 100 kilowatt (kw) chunks for approximately $4 per month.  Each consumer or business will be allowed to purchase up to 400kw.  This means that customers in Dominion’s territory will be able to purchase solar energy and net it against their home meter. 

Last March, I was proud to partner with Dominion in announcing their application for SCC approval.  On August 7, 2015, the SCC approved this plan. Dominion can now move forward.

While I still believe that the best solution is allowing groups of individuals or businesses to do this independently, Dominion’s program is a great advance that will provide consumers with more choices and the ability to choose less-polluting, renewable energy if their homes or businesses are not ideally suited.

You can read the SCC’s approval order and Dominion’s “Frequently Asked Questions” flyer about this program at scottsurovell.blogspot.com

*Delegate Scott Surovell is currently running for Virginia’s 36th Senate district seat.

HOT lanes cannot be the only answer

Opinion

On Monday morning, I had the opportunity to attend a Transportation Summit sponsored by the Fredericksburg Area Chamber of Commerce.  A big takeaway from the summit was that our elected leadership in Richmond is failing us on the issue of transportation.

When I served as the Aquia District Supervisor in Stafford County, state officials came to the Stafford Board to gain our support for the HOT Lanes. We told them back then that Stafford could not support this idea unless the lanes extended down to Massaponax, because we knew the terrible bottleneck that would be caused at the end of the lanes. 

Here we are in 2015 and the HOT Lanes have created a nightmare for the residents of this region. Not only could you pay up to $20 one-way to get to DC, but on your return trip home, you will undoubtedly sit in several miles of backup to get off the lanes at Garrisonville Road.  You may think that your toll money is being put back into the state coffers to build roads, but that’s not necessarily true. If profits exceed a certain threshold, then the state may share in those profits. Most of that profit is going to Transurban, a foreign company, and not to our roads. Additionally, if Transurban does not bring in enough money, the Virginia taxpayer is on the hook to make up the difference.  This is the transportation solution that your Delegate, Speaker Bill Howell, has brought you after 28 years in office.  He obviously does not sit in rush hour traffic on I-95, like the rest of us do.

We are so behind in maintaining and upgrading our transportation infrastructure that many see the gridlock on I-95 (the major artery up and down the East Coast) as an issue of national security.  If there were a disaster, could we even effectively evacuate the Nations Capital?  We must work with our federal partners to expand VRE service, extend Metro to at least Woodbridge, and repair our structurally deficient bridges.

Traffic is the hidden tax that we all are paying. We pay it by missing out on our kids soccer games, by not having the time to be a Girl Scout leader, by being held hostage in our homes on the weekends. We pay it with poor health. We pay it in decreased property values. And as Charles McDaniel, long-time owner of Hilldrup Moving & Storage said at the Transportation Summit, we pay for it in reduced business productivity, because we are all sitting in traffic.

This is unacceptable. Speaker Howell has lead us into this nightmare, and we deserve better. We deserve a Delegate with the foresight to invest in transportation infrastructure that will benefit every resident and business in our community.  I ask for your vote on November 3rd because elections matter. I will go to Richmond to stand up and fight for meaningful, long-term solutions.  I will go to Richmond and work everyday to improve your quality of life.

*Kandy Hilliard is a former member of the Stafford Board of Supervisors and is currently running for the 28th District seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Equality for women important to Virginia

Those who meet the standards and graduate from the Army’s challenging Ranger School earn the right to wear the prestigious Ranger tab.

On August 21, 2015, two female Soldiers made history. Captain Kristen Griest and First Lieutenant Shaye Haver became the first women to earn the honor and joined a long line of outstanding Soldiers.

This is a proud day for anyone who has donned a uniform. I served 20 years in the U.S. military; the majority of which was in the Army and I stand taller today knowing that we have moved a bit closer to true equality. I firmly believe that any soldier capable of performing the mission should be given the opportunity to do so.

As significant an achievement as this is earning the Ranger tab is, Griest and Haver will not be assigned combat roles in the 75th Ranger Regiment. The Combat Exclusion Policy was rescinded in January 2013, but the services have until January 2016 to implement changes and request exclusions.

It has been said that there is no desire to send women into combat because of the political consequences of female soldiers coming home in body bags. This is a bogus argument.

As a matter of course, women serve in combat zones, come into harm’s way, and even sometimes lose their lives as a result. Let us allow those who are ready, willing, and able to serve to do so in the manner that they choose and break this last glass ceiling.

Meanwhile, back on the home front, the wage gap persists in our country. Regardless of ethnicity, women make, on average, less than men for the same work.

This must change. In the private as well as the public sector, women serve in more leadership roles today than they did 20 years ago, but still not in proportion to the population. So while there’s progress, we still have a long way to go.

And here in the great Commonwealth of Virginia, we are ranked the eighth worst in the country for gender equality. We can do better.

As we celebrated women’s right to vote on Equality Day on August 26, we should recommit ourselves to continue the fight for equality in pay, in representation in our government, and in our boardrooms.

We all need to work for equality for women and we need Richmond to pick up the mantle to pull Virginia into the place where we can lead the country in gender equality. A Commonwealth in which women and girls have equal opportunity, have representation in the General Assembly and own and run businesses will attract the best and the brightest to our state, attract businesses, and make this Commonwealth the leader it should be. That is the Virginia I want to live in.

We should celebrate steps toward equality, not fight them. I have two daughters and look forward to the day when equal pay for equal work is a reality and when prospective employees are chosen based on their qualifications alone. When I get to Richmond, I will fight to put an end to discriminatory practices so that every Virginian has true equality of opportunity.

-Don Shaw is a Democrat running against Republican Bob Marshall for the 13th District Virginia House of Delegates seat. 

Safe communities, safe schools, safe kids

Opinion

As families prepare their kids to head back to school one thought is in the back of everyone’s mind: safety.  Prince William County schools are a reflection of Prince William County communities. 

Potomac School Board Rep Betty Covington and I recently attended a safe schools presentation at Forest Park High School.  One thing is clear: safe schools start with safe communities. 

As Chairman of the Prince William County Safe Schools Advisory Council I have had the opportunity to chair public meetings with staff and parents at the Kelly Leadership Center.  The staff in our schools put forth impressive efforts to keep our kids safe during the school day.  In fact, I do believe our kids are safer today from outside threats than they were ten years ago.

However, challenges still remain which we need to address.  As Chairman of the School Board, I will work collaboratively with the community to promote these three priorities: (1) mobile devices and social media; (2) safety before and after school; (3) mental health safety.

Social media and mobile devices have simplified our lives in many ways, but they have created a host of safety challenges for our young people.  The Safe Schools Advisory Council hosted a social media information night in May, open to the community.  More than 250 members of the community came to learn about the long term implications of sexting and cyberbullying.  Most importantly, we provided resources to help families prevent these issues from happening in the future.  While 250 is an impressive number, the need for more education on this issue in the community is clear. 

While kids are safe during the school day, Prince William County needs to review and update safety protocols to answer these questions:  How can we ensure safety in the morning, while kids are meeting with teachers to collect missed assignments? How can we ensure safety in the afternoon while kids and staff are still on school grounds for clubs, tutoring and athletics?  Furthermore, how can we ensure kids are safe while in transit (walking or bus) to and from school?

Mental health can be at the root of many safety incidents in schools.  While we learn about mental health and develop protocols to keep kids and staff safe, we must balance this with a need to respect privacy and rights of individuals.  The Safe Schools Advisory Council hosted a Mental Health Information night, also open to the community, in October 2014.  Parents sent a message: they need a more responsive school system with respect to mental health.  Some of these issues overlapped with Special Education.  As with most challenges, the best solutions come from collaboration. 

Candidates (including myself) will be talking about class size reduction, competitive teacher pay and common core during this election season.  These are prominent issues for Prince William County.  However, the 2015 conversation would be incomplete without robust dialogue on how to maintain a safe, healthy and drug free learning environment for our kids and staff.  Safe Communities – Safe Schools – Safe Kids. 

*Singstock is a candidate for the Chairman of the Prince William County School Board.

Chairman of Prince William school board one of most important positions

Opinion

One of the most important positions that County voters will decide on November 3rd is Chairman of the County School Board. Our school system is the largest entity in the County, educating some 87,000 students and employing 10,800 teachers, bus drivers and support staff.

The School Board became an elected body 20 years ago, in the aftermath of an era when Board members were appointed by the respective Magisterial District Supervisors. The change was approved by the Virginia General Assembly in order to distance education from political agendas. As we know, politicians are accountable for the functioning of County government. Education of our children is in the province of parents, families, teachers and elected officials whose principal job is to guide the School Administration. Unfortunately, political parties continue to attempt to dominate the process by endorsing School Board candidates. This tends to make School Board members accountable to politicians and their agendas. And for the past several years, one of the first places they cut is education. How does the Chairman of the School Board support education when beholden, for example, to County political leaders? And worse, what criteria does the political party use when it endorses School Board candidates?

Right now, 45 of our 80 schools are over-capacity. We are among the lowest in teacher salaries and aid to education in the Washington region. How do we explain such numbers to companies seeking to re-locate their operations and employees to Prince William County?

Voters will have a choice of three candidates for School Board Chairman in November. Two are endorsed by the major political parties. Neither, in my opinion, have the breadth of experience needed to represent the educational needs of parents, families and children in this critical position. The third candidate is Independent Bristow resident Tracy Conroy, a parent with goals and experience designed to improve the education of our children.

Ms. Conroy is a registered nurse with a B.S. degree in Health Care Administration. She has held positions, in Hospital Management, Quality Assurance and Program Development. Her husband is a small businessman, and their two children attend County schools. Tracy currently works as an independent health-care contractor. Most important, Tracy has worked as a parent for over ten years, advocating before the School Board on matters of importance to our children. She has served on County Budget Committees for over three years and, in this capacity, has a working familiarity with the annual education budget of over $1.0 billion. Ms. Conroy recognizes that funds are limited. She further understands the expectations of all the stakeholders and will work with parents, fellow School Board members, the Board of County Supervisors, the administration and staff to meet the needs of our students.

Tracy is from the Philadelphia area, and moved to Dale City in 1997. She and her family have lived in Lake Ridge, Winding Creek, Hunter’s Ridge, Victory Lakes, and Braemar. She notes she may be the first candidate who has lived in the Neabsco, Coles, Occoquan, and Brentsville Districts.

Tracy’s principal objectives in seeking this important position are: Accountability, School Equality, Community Involvement, and a Superior Education. I believe that Tracy has the education and background to serve our community as an excellent steward our educational system. It is clear that she will best represent the needs of families and our children, and not serve the political interests of many other elected officials, whose principal interests are not in education.

We won’t fix the challenges Prince William schools face overnight

Opinion

When I moved to Dale City in 1978, I was a nine year old rising 4 th grader. 

Enterprise Elementary School opened its doors for the first time that year, and I was in Ms. Stoneburner’s class. After two years at Enterprise, a school my children would later attend and where I would eventually serve as PTA President and Treasurer, I went to Godwin Middle School and graduated from Osbourn Park in 1987. During those years, I received a great education from some incredible teachers. And I chose to raise and educate my children here in Prince William County.

Since 1992, I’ve had children in our schools continuously, with another five years to go. When my two youngest graduate, my children and I will have a total of 74 years in Prince William County Public Schools. I’ve had the opportunity to witness, firsthand, the changes in our schools and the commitment to education in our community. And those changes, in recent years, have not been for the better.

Prince William County schools currently have the largest classroom sizes in the entire Commonwealth of Virginia. That’s a dubious and dangerous distinction. Some will argue that class sizes don’t matter. I believe that they do. I believe that asking a middle school teacher to give 38 young teens the personalized attention that they need to truly thrive is simply asking too much. It puts our teachers in a no win situation, and it threatens our children’s’ futures.

Here in Prince William County, we currently invest considerably less per student than our counterparts in Northern Virginia, and our teachers are compensated at significantly lower rates than other neighboring counties. Our teachers have been asked to work longer hours for the same pay, and all too often have to pay for vital classroom supplies out of their own pockets. A friend who teaches 7 th grade science in one of our middle schools got several reams of paper as a Christmas present from her husband this year. We simply have to do better.

The challenges we face in providing our children with the education they need and our educators with the working environment and compensation they deserve are, quite frankly, self inflicted.They are not someone else’s fault. They are the result of land use decisions by the Board of County Supervisors that have put residential growth ahead of infrastructure needs and a lack of resolve in ensuring that our schools not only receive the financial support they require, but that funding is used where it belongs: in the classroom.

To address these issues, we need make some important changes.

First, the Board must do a better job in sticking to the Strategic and Comprehensive Plans when making land use decisions. Deciding whether or not to approve a rezoning or special use permit has to be based solely on the impact that approval will have on the community as a whole, not for the benefit of special interests. More importantly, we must eliminate the revenue sharing agreement between the Board of County Supervisors and the School Board. This agreement has been in place for decades and has allowed both Boards to shy away from the hard discussions needed on funding our schools instead of addressing them. School funding shouldn’t be based on an arbitrary formula.

Interestingly, we are one of only two jurisdictions in the entire state that do this. School funding should be based on detailed, prioritized budgets presented by the School Board and administration that give the community the opportunity to have their voices heard on how much to invest in our schools and where the money is spent each year based on specific needs. These discussions won’t be easy, nor should they be. But leadership is about engagement and tackling the tough issues, not using legislation to avoid responsibility.

After a decade of questionable decisions, we won’t fix the challenges our schools face overnight. It will take time, tough decisions and real leadership. My own children will hopefully see some progress, but it’s my grandchildren that I hope will see the real benefits. I chose to raise and educate my children here in Prince William County because I believed that our community was the best place to do that. I want my children to believe this when they also have to make that decision. We’re not there now. But I know that with the right changes and the right leadership, we can get there.

*Rick Smith is running for Chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors.

We won’t take their lives or their stories for granted

Opinion 

I went home Wednesday night and finished working on the fence in our backyard.

We installed a new gate to a side yard. Our two goats will enjoy this new large space, and I’ll enjoy the fact that they will eat all the unwanted foliage there.

It was simply just another evening at home I shared with my wife and our pets after another long day at work.

These evenings are ones we may sometimes take for granted.

That morning journalists Alison Parker, 24, and Adam Ward, 27, were shot and killed on live TV while interviewing a local chamber of commerce president, who was also shot and survived. The story they were covering was not one of violent crime, or digging up secrets of a mob boss, or to uncover political wrongdoing.

A celebration was underway for a dam built 60 years ago that created Virginia’s Smith Mountain Lake. Parker and Ward went to learn about all of the fun events and activities planned for the anniversary, and went to bring home that community news story to their audience.

It’s a story that us reporters, and a service that we as readers may take for granted.

We journalists cover our communities with pride every day. Our business, the way we do our jobs, and the rules of traditional news writing as we knew them 20 years ago have all changed. They will continue to change as new digital storytelling tools emerge and, most importantly, readers continue to shift how they get their news and how much news content they demand.

As journalists, we are involved in this community in ways many people are not, or simply can’t be due to work and family commitments. We are here during the day reporting on our community while the majority of our readers leave the area for work in Washington, D.C.

We are the ones that are asked why police were “on my street last night.” or “what’s going on in my child’s school,” or “what am I really getting in exchange for the taxes I’m paying?”

In turn, we are privileged to go out and and bring home the answers to these and other questions. We get to explain to our readers what’s going on in their communities and why it matters to them.

Anymore, there are few others in our community that do what we do. But we’re glad there’s still a handful of us. Every community needs more reporters.

If our readers didn’t have to work and had more free time, maybe they would go out and do what we do. 

The job is not easy. It’s time-consuming. It’s not cheap. It doesn’t require the highest degree awarded by the most prestigious journalism school in the nation.

It does require dedication, commitment, and a true understanding of the community that we serve. It is work that should not be taken for granted.

It’s taken me a few days to write these words, and to try to wrap my head around the tragic events of this week. I tried to let my emotions subside and time pass before I took to my bully pulpit.

Newspapers, local news websites, and local TV stations are not the sole source for community information any longer. Social media is now an indispensable method of spreading news and photos, and for telling stories.

Not a day goes by that we, the reporters, don’t look to social media to find out what conversations are being had in the communities we cover. And you’ll be hard-pressed to find a TV news show that isn’t showing an image of a Facebook page or Twitter comment to help tell the story.

Not all information posted to social media is accurate. We saw that Wednesday when incorrect reports surfaced of Virginia State Police pursuing Parker and Ward’s killer on Interstate 64 near Charlottesville.

As long as we’re around — as long as our readers find value in our reporting and local businesses and organizations find value in marketing to our readers — we’ll do our best to report the news timely fairly, accurately, and with a focus on how it impacts our community.

It’s the same thing Parker, and Ward would be doing today had they not been gunned down.

Ahead, the debate over how to best help those with mental illness, and what to do about the increasing number of high-profile shootings will rage on. After Virginia Tech, the state is no stranger to these conversations.

For now let’s remember two young, much-loved journalists who had their whole lives ahead of them. Whom, for a brief time, were given the honor and privilege of covering their hometowns — the same privilege that I have been given.

And let us take nothing for granted.

-Uriah Kiser is the founder and publisher of PotomacLocal.com.

Judge Alston is a highly qualified and deserving judge

Opinion

During my tenure in the Virginia General Assembly I have met a lot of very qualified and capable judges, and I quickly realized that when judges make it to the General Assembly, they are more than able to handle the job and generally very qualified. Our confirmation is usually procedural in nature. So when the debate over this Virginia Supreme Court nomination began, I initially stayed quiet because as a general rule either way we would end up with a very qualified and competent jurist.

This time it worries me that the tone and rhetoric about this appointment has entered into political mudslinging that questions the character and career of a man that has worked very hard to get to where he is, and not to mention is more than deserving of this appointment.

I am writing today because of a Washington Post article published last week about the candidates. The article writes that Judge Alston did not file some reports. It was clear to me that this was a blatant attempt to target his character. Having learned that Judge Alston had in fact filed his reports and that they were needed for him to even be considered for the appointment to begin with, it reminded me of the ugly political game that continues to operate with no regard for those that it unfairly attacks. Yet, we continue to allow this machine to function with reckless abandon and never hold anyone accountable for the untrue and unnecessary destruction that it leaves behind.

What has alarmed me in the passing days has been the divisive and simplistic rhetoric that has taken the accomplishments of two highly distinguished individuals and boiled their appointments down to their gender and race. I am disappointed with this tactic from both political parties. We have two Virginians to choose from, and at this point it is just a matter of preference. I have been impressed with our Governor and support many of his decisions, but today we differ, because I support Judge Rossie Alston and here is why…

Judge Alston, Prince William County, is eminently qualified to sit on the Supreme Court of Virginia. According to many sources, he has served with distinction as a judge on the Virginia Court of Appeals (2nd Highest Court in the Commonwealth, just below the Virginia Supreme Court position he is up for), he was unanimously elected by the General Assembly to serve on the VA Court of Appeals (no one went against his appointment then), he served as Chief Judge of Prince William County Circuit Court (he elected to that post by his fellow Circuit Court Judges, demonstrating the high regard in which his fellow jurists hold him), and served as an Associate Judge on the Prince William County Circuit Court. And he has been noted for his great judicial temperament and respectful nature.

Instead of just expressing my support for or against the candidates, I need to also address an elephant in the room that has exposed itself in the midst of this strife. How is it that we are able to simplify the credentials of such an outstanding jurist down to “The Republicans only chose him because he was black?” or dehumanize and address him as I saw one blog site post “this Right-Wing Nut Job.” How is it that we can only see race and ignore all that he has accomplished? How is it that Judge Alston was recommended by all major Bar Associations and even the top choice of the Old Dominion Bar, sitting on the second highest court in the Commonwealth, but was never “in our top 5”?

The frustration throughout the country in the African American community continues because of political stunts like this. As a collective, the group feels overlooked, disregarded and taken for granted, and narratives such as the one playing out here only fuel this fire. Is the preference because of qualifications or because on group needs more persuasion to vote a particular way? Judge Alston is a highly qualified and deserving judge, and if anyone speaks to the contrary, I hope you correct them.

Lingamfelter helped lower the speed limit on our street

Opinion 

Sometimes it’s the little thing that can make a big difference in a community.

My wife and I moved into our new home in Prince William County last year.  We reside on Token Forest Drive, and along with several of our neighbors; we were very concerned about the excessive speeding and dangerous conditions in front of our homes.  

Token Forest Drive is often used as a cut-through to avoid the signalized intersection at Hoadly and Purcell Road.  Vehicles flew past our homes seven days a week at all hours of the day, at speeds nearly twice the posted limit of 35 mph.  This made daily tasks, like backing out of the driveway or retrieving mail, an appreciably dangerous endeavor.  

Despite the best attempts of local officials, our combined neighborhood effort to reduce the speed limit on Token Forest Drive fell flat.  That’s when I decided to contact Delegate Scott Lingamfelter.

Delegate Lingamfelter went to work on this issue the day that I reached out to him.  He personally wrote a letter to the Virginia Department of Transportation on our behalf, as well as met with VDOT officials to share our legitimate safety concerns.  In a matter of weeks, I received confirmation from Delegate Lingamfelter’s office that our neighborhood road would indeed have its speed limit reduced to 25 mph.  I was astonished.

The main point is this: Delegate Lingamfelter worked diligently on an issue that was important to those that he served.  He understands that any issue, no matter how large or small, should be treated with the highest regard and care.  He truly understands the importance of constituent service, and that to me proves his dedication to the community that he represents.  Delegate Lingamfelter gets results, and that’s why I will be supporting him on November 3.   

This letter was submitted by Daniel A. Varroney, of Prince William County, Va.

Enough Route 1 studies — action needed now

Opinion 

Whether you live, work or are just passing through Northern Virginia, the 30-mile stretch of Route 1 that connects the Capital Beltway to Aquia Harbor is one of the nation’s most congested transportation arteries.

Portions of Route-1 carry an average of 231,000 vehicles per day and, even with improvements, vehicular traffic will only increase in the coming years.

As Mayor of Dumfries, I have been a leading voice in support of a cohesive, regional approach to improving the Route 1 Corridor, and I am a supporter of high-speed commuter trains to ease traffic congestion.  Now I am running for Virginia Senate to take my experience on this issue to Richmond, and to move us beyond endless talk and duplicative studies, and towards long-term solutions for the Route 1 corridor.

The first step to resolving congestion is to admit that enough studies have been conducted– talking is over and action is now required.

If elected, I will champion House and Senate bills that distribute funds fairly to transportation corridors that have high density traffic and actively participate in dialogue with local governments.  I will ensure that all modes of transportation – car, truck, bus, pedestrian, bike, Metro, Virginia Railway Express, high speed rail and waterborne – are part of the solution. 

Moreover, I will be an advocate in Richmond for transportation safety and improvements, this includes much needed bridge repair and replacement along with support for law enforcement and first responders whose job policing Route 1 and responding to the near daily accidents is daunting to say the least.

The 36th Senate District includes Fairfax, Prince William, and Stafford counties along Route 1, but not all three counties are represented on the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA). 

As such, Stafford County road projects are not coordinated with Prince William and Fairfax counties.  The disconnectedness is an issue that must be remedied.  Additionally, a veritable web of federal, state, county and local governments, elected officials and agencies complicates matters, even when all have the best of intentions. 

As Senator, I will make it my highest priority to bring all of these entities and people together – putting party politics aside – to affect positive and lasting change for our commuters, residents and business owners. 

Each of the counties within the district has done a good job in developing and maintaining their Capital Improvement and Comprehensive Plans this includes infrastructure and traffic considerations.  These documents are planned with VDOT so one hand is talking to the other. 

As a Senator, my job is not to tell the counties how to do their planning, rather my function is support infrastructure improvements and put legislative and funding vehicles in place that ensure a quality of life that meets our citizen’s expectations.

As an example, Fairfax anticipates high-intensity residential and commercial development around the Huntington and Franconia-Springfield Metro stations, and Prince William is planning intensive growth around the Woodbridge VRE station, and a future VRE station at Potomac Shores north of Quantico.  As Senator I would work with each county and discuss what could be done in Richmond to support their vision. 

Northern Virginia is vying for over $400 million in state transportation funds that would help ease the region’s worst traffic congestion. Your Senator’s job is to bring needed state and federal transportation funding to this region and ensure the citizens and business owners are not unfairly taxed at each level.  Your Senator should ensure that constituent’s money is wisely spent.

As a member of the Northern Virginia Regional Commission and Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, I speak from experience that the jurisdictions in Northern Virginia work well together. The NVTA is all about nonpartisan politics, regionalism and collaboration.

This is the same type of cooperation we need in Richmond to improve the Route 1 Corridor and to solve the many other challenges facing our great commonwealth.  As your Senator, I pledge to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Gerald “Jerry” Foreman is mayor of Dumfries and is seeking the 36th District seat in the Virginia Senate. 

Transparency needed in Prince William board of supervisors

Opinion

Trust in government at all levels has been falling for years. And it isn’t particularly surprising. We hear almost daily about politicians on the take, breaking the public trust for their own personal or political gain. Unfortunately, we let it continue year after year not only by re­electing those guilty of such practices, but also by not demanding more transparency and accountability from our elected officials. But that doesn’t have to be the case in Prince William County.

In 2008, I was selected to serve as the lone, at­large citizen of the County’s Board Audit Committee, a group charged with ensuring that staff are efficient and effective in complying with laws, policies and procedures. The board itself eliminated the citizen position from the audit committee before I had the opportunity to actually serve. This lack of government transparency is unacceptable. To date, the board consists only of the County Supervisors themselves with no input or participation from members of the community. This needs to change. If we as citizens are not invited to be part of processes such as this, and get the bad news along with the good, we lose the power to keep our public servants honest and focused on finding real solutions to the problems we face. As Chairman of the Board of County Supervisors, I will make it a top priority on my first day in office to restore citizen membership to the audit committee so that the public has direct access to compliance and efficiency audits.

But auditing the performance of County staff isn’t enough. The citizens of Prince William pay the salaries of the supervisors, and they need to be able to hold the supervisors themselves accountable. I’m committed to creating a local committee of private citizens whose purpose is to monitor Supervisors and report to the public annually on issues of transparency and conflicts of interest.

When Supervisors receive large contributions from donors who have business before the Board and then fail to recuse themselves on votes involving those contributors, that’s a serious conflict of interest. People shouldn’t have to spend hours digging through campaign finance reports to see the clear conflicts of interest brought up by big campaign contributions, we need a committee that brings that into the open so that citizens are able to hold their elected officials accountable. This committee will meet regularly and report annually, not to the Board, but to our citizens, sharing every instance where a Board member failed to disclose a conflict or acted in manner that wasn’t transparent or in keeping with the open, honest government we deserve.

Governing from the shadows and putting the interests of large donors over the needs of our people has no place in Prince William County. My promise is to not only act in the best interest of every resident of our community, but to put real reforms in place to protect us from those who would put their own interests ahead of ours.

*Rick Smith is running for Chairman of the Prince William board of supervisors.

Basis of a solid economy is education

Opinion

In November of this year, we will be going to the polls to select our representatives to the House of Delegates.  In the 31st District, the choice is between Scott Lingamfelter and Sara Townsend.  If you feel our school system is incredibly well funded and your representatives in Richmond have consistently been investing in education to create a better future for your children you may wish to re-elect Scott Lingamfelter; however, if you are an educated voter, fully aware of the Delegate Lingamfelter’s voting record, you will cast your ballot for Sara Townsend. 

The basis of a solid economy is a well-educated populace.  After teaching in public and private schools for nearly 20 years, I finally had to leave the profession last year because of the constraints put on public schools by our House of Delegates.  Despite mandated requirements put in place by our elected representatives, funding has been slashed at the state level thanks to representatives like Delegate Lingamfelter. 

When universal preschool pilot programs were proposed to create a solid foundation for children’s education, Delegate Lingamfelter voted to cut it.  Not merely voting against this program, early reading initiatives were also slashed.  Without a solid foundation for our students how can Virginia improve its economic future?  Scott Lingamfelter addresses the needs of the moment without having the vision to invest in the future.  When these cuts were made in Richmond, Prince William and Fauquier County residents must pick up the tab at the local level. 

Delegate Lingamfelter supporting tax breaks for companies that outsource jobs clearly was a waste of the taxpayers’ resources and negative effects the tax base.   These tax breaks have come at the cost of higher education.  Four year and community college funding has been stripped shifting the educational burden to those who desperately wish to improve their station in life.  It is no accident that college graduates leave their schools with soul crushing debt. 

Sara Townsend has been a teacher and understands the importance of education at all levels.  She is presently completing a PhD program in educational policies at George Mason University.  If elected she will be one of only eight delegates with an education background.  She will focus on improve the educational qualities and opportunities for all our citizens.  Her vision promises to create a brighter future for our children. 

If you wish to invest in the future of Virginia, your choice is clear, vote for Sara Townsend for District 31.

Education policy based on results, not rhetoric

Opinion

Well, the campaign season for the General Assembly Election in November is upon us. This will be increasingly evident as we endure a parade of negative attacks and falsehoods that will emerge in the weeks and months ahead. I wish it wasn’t so. People—voters—deserve the truth, not false and misleading rhetoric. That is why I am personally responding to the article penned by Jane Touchet, chairman of the Democratic Women of Lake Ridge, attacking me in support of my challenger, Sara Townsend.

Ms. Touchet, a partisan Democrat who doesn’t reside in the district that I serve, says “Mr. Lingamfelter has proven again and again that he is no friend of public education”. Really? Let’s review the facts.

My wife Shelley has taught in public schools since 1974. She and I educated all three of our children in public schools in Prince William. Both Shelley and I routinely volunteered for school activities and gave our time and resources to help in any way we could.

Shelley, who just retired from the Prince William County Schools system, has always been my best advisor on education matters. I listen to her and, as the second most senior member of the House Education Committee; I have always been an advocate for our teachers.

Let’s review some facts. Ms Touchet claims that I “cut millions” from public education. But consider this. According to Appropriations Committee data, from 2002 through the current fiscal year, General Fund spending for K-12 increased by about $1.7 billion, or 43%. But over that same period of time, the total revenue amount from all General Fund sources increased by just under $3.0 billion, or 41%. In other words, over this period of time even when budgeting was tough, the General Assembly opposed cutting public education (except one year when the recession hit) and funded education at a rate higher than the general revenue coming in. And we are still working, even now, to bring education spending back to pre-recession levels. But we are doing so in a fiscally responsible manner so we address all of our core responsibilities.

Here are some other things to consider that I voted for (and we passed) just this year in support of education:

I voted to reduce the number of SOL tests in grades 3 through 8, from 22 to 17 so teachers can spend more time in actual instruction of our kids.
I voted for legislation that passed to expedite SOL re-take tests and require schools to submit less paperwork to Richmond.
And having heard the concerns of parents about the confusing and varying standards at Virginia colleges for accepting credit for AP coursework, I helped pass legislation this year to standardize this system and remove any confusion on getting AP credits accepted by our colleges.
This budget cycle, I voted for $861 million in additional K-12 funding to support our teachers and help our students. We made no cuts to K-12 education when addressing Virginia’s $2.4 billion revenue shortfall. In fact, Virginia is spending more on K-12 education than was spent under the last budget adopted under Democrat Governor Tim Kaine. And unlike what Virginia Democrats wanted to do at the time, we’ve been able to invest in our education system without raising taxes.
I voted to provide our teachers with a 1.5% pay raise, the second pay raise in three years.
As a senior member on the House Appropriations Committee, I supported an overall increase of $60 million for K-12 education compared to Governor McAuliffe’s budget proposal.
And I supported a deposit of an additional $43 million into teacher retirement fund compared to Governor McAuliffe’s budget proposal, bringing the total deposit to $193 million.

These are just a few of the important K-12 education reforms and actions that passed this year—with my support—that will ensure all Virginia students have access to a good education.

So I ask you, does this sound like an “unfriendly” posture to public education? To the contrary, I have been a solid and reliable supporter of public education. And I will continue to support efforts to hire and retain great teachers, fund quality education for our kids, require accountability to the parents and tax-payers that fund education, and offer real reforms, not partisan rhetoric that has utterly no basis in fact. So to Ms. Touchet, I would simply say, touché. And in the future, let’s center the debate on ideas, not negative and false attacks.

*Scott Lingamfelter is currently a delegate in Virginia’s 31st House district.

How to fix crowding? Start with middle school

Opinion 

Almost every elected official and candidate on the ballot this November will acknowledge crowding as a significant issue in Prince William County Schools.

While the School Board and Board of County Supervisors have made limited headway on this issue in recent years, it seems we continue to work around the edges of this problem. Until we have a plan with budget implications, we cannot have an open and honest debate about class size reduction.

As a Certified Project Management Professional and former Army officer, I have learned that problems of this magnitude need to be divided into smaller problems and solved incrementally. My proposal starts with middle school and will be phased in over time.

According to the Washington Area Boards of Education, middle school is where the problem is most acute. Average class sizes in Prince William County middle schools are 31.5. Reducing middle school class sizes will reduce high school dropout rates, raise academic performance and improve teacher morale.

Furthermore, middle school students are experiencing some of the most challenging transitional years of their lives. We need to keep these students engaged in the classroom if they are to be successful in high school and beyond. Reducing middle school class sizes has the added benefit of aiding today’s elementary schools kids when they enter middle school.

While creative solutions such as dual enrollment with Northern Virginia Community College and Virginia Virtual High school exist to alleviate crowding in high schools, similar solutions do not exist for middle school students. I have to be honest – we simply need to build more classrooms and hire more teachers. This will be expensive, but knowing the numbers is half the battle.

The cost to reduce class sizes in a single grade level across all Prince William County schools by one child per class is $1.4 million a year. The cost to reduce all middle school class sizes by one child is $4.2 million a year. The cost to reduce average middle school class sizes five children per class is $21 million per year.

I propose implementing this program over a five year period. With a billion dollar operating budget, $21 million may not seem like much, but finding these funds will require a transparent and honest dialogue within the community about our priorities. This is democracy in action.

As a community we will have to make difficult decisions to reduce class sizes for our middle school students. Only when leaders step forward with clearly articulated plans can we move towards real solutions. Here is my plan Prince William County. Let’s start the dialogue:

This submitted post is written by Tim Singstock, a candidate for Chairman of the Prince William County School Board.

Townsend recognizes the importance of prioritizing education

Opinion

Residents of the 31st House District of VA (which includes parts of Dumfries, Dale City, Woodbridge, and Triangle in Prince William County, and Catlett, Calverton, and Casanova in southern Fauquier County) have an opportunity this year to elect an educator to the House of Delegates.  Since only eight of our current delegates have a teaching background, the election of Sara Townsend would provide the much-needed addition of someone who has teaching experience and an interest in education policy.

Sara Townsend, a resident of Fauquier County, is a former teacher who is currently pursuing a PhD in Education Policy at George Mason University.  One of her strong motivations to challenge Delegate Scott Lingamfelter for this seat is her desire to speak up for students, teachers, and parents in the decision-making body of Virginia.  She recognizes the importance of prioritizing education and the proper balance of students and teachers in the classroom if children are expected to do their best and learn. 

Her opponent, Mr. Lingamfelter, has proven again and again that he is no friend of public education.  He has continually short-changed our students and our teachers by voting to cut millions in funding from education. Children who get a head start through attendance at preschool are known to perform at a higher level once they get into school.  Yet Mr. Lingamfelter voted to cut pilot projects that would have evaluated universal preschool in Virginia. 

We all understand the importance of learning to read in the early years of elementary school.  Yet Mr. Lingamfelter voted to cut an early reading initiative that would have helped children become successful readers.

Ms. Townsend would protect and promote educational opportunities for our students and vote for budgets which would place education as a high priority  – something that her opponent has failed to do. This is why we need her in Richmond as a member of the General Assembly. I hope you will join me in November in supporting Sara Townsend for House of Delegates.

Public transportation is vital in Prince William

Opinion

Back in the late 1980’s, I was a young father of two children, living in the Mapledale community in Dale City where I grew up.  I worked as a Branch Manager at a bank in Washington, DC.  As a one-car family with one parent commuting to work and the other needing to travel locally, transportation could have been an issue for us.  But we were fortunate.  I was able to walk a very short distance to the bus stop and take an OmniRide bus to and from the city each day.  It allowed my wife Jean and I to live without the added expense of a second car.

On July 9th, I attended a PRTC board meeting, during which their current budget shortfall and possible options for service reductions were discussed.  As a long-time user of PRTC services, I believe that it is critical to our community that local leaders come together to solve this issue without further reductions to OmniRide and OmniLink services.  Allowing PRTC services to be reduced will hurt Prince William families, particularly those similar to mine as a younger man. 

Public transportation is a vital service to any community that hopes to thrive and attract residents and job creators.  As our children grow up, start families of their own and enter the workforce, it is very clear that their needs and values are different than ours were.  They want town centers and activities.  They prefer communities with the option of public transportation.  If Prince William County hopes to be a community of choice in the years to come, to offer the value proposition that will attract families and businesses, our local government must invest in public transportation.

The Board of County Supervisors can’t solve this problem alone.  Simply funding the shortfall out of the County’s general fund isn’t the answer.  But we will need more public transportation in the future, not less, and the Board must be willing to fund a portion of the shortfall and take a leadership role in bringing local and regional leaders in both the government and private sectors together to find a viable, long-term solution.  I’m confident that, with leaders in place that are committed to our community and addressing not only the current challenges we face but also investing in 21st-Century solutions and opportunities, Prince William County can indeed thrive.  Our community has great potential.  This November, let’s elect leaders who can ensure that we realize that potential.

*Rick Smith is a candidate for Chairman of the Prince William board of supervisors.

Transparency and inclusion – the key to healthy politics

Opinion

One thing that I have learned in my professional career as a strong leader is that transparency and inclusion builds strong results within a community of committed team players, committees or organizations.  I was so taken aback after reading that there was a closed door session to discuss prospective salary increases by the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. Well, that is lack of transparency and inclusion.

As an elected public official, the steward of community welfare, it is imperative that the community can trust and believe that the official’s leadership and integrity is solid.  We need to know that our elected officials are focused on keeping their ears to the pulse of what the community needs, not what the official feels they are entitled to.  The act of conducting a closed door session to discuss a salary increase for the Board of Supervisors was plainly and simply an act of entitlement.   But, herein lies the question….is transparency, truth, and forthrightness disregarded when we make public decisions in a privately exclusive way?

If our government officials believe that they deserve an increase, then the discussion should be brought out in the open to the professionally astute constituents who elected them.  After all, as an elected official, your salary is exposed to the public openly.  So where is the accountability to the public?

My commitment to run for the Board of Supervisors is based upon my desire to serve the people with strong, inclusive leadership skills, corporate know-how, and community partnerships that I have developed in Prince William County since 1976. Also, my commitment is to work with my colleagues on the board to assess salaries of county employees, teachers, and public safety professionals to improve their quality of life.   My commitment is to build stronger bridges within the community by bringing more jobs to our county, addressing our transportation needs with a plan that is doable, and being more financially responsible in managing the county budget…   Closed door sessions prohibit the attainment of results for progress, growth, and change.   Prince William County is changing by leaps and bounds. The people have changed and so must our elected officials and the way we govern ourselves.

As a community, we need to seriously examine the need for closed door sessions and ask is it necessary in building a stronger, more advanced, and desirable Prince William County.   Think about it!

*Bailey is a candidate for Potomac district supervisor.

Prompt action and cooperation needed to clean the Potomac River

Opinion

This past week, the senior member of Virginia’s congressional delegation introduced legislation to remove the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to hold Virginia accountable for failing to clean up the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay.  People should be deeply disturbed. The Potomac provides drinking water to five million people.

A Rich History

The Potomac River was once a bountiful asset and source of employment.  In 1604, Captain John Smith wrote of fish so plentiful he could spear them with his sword, oysters that “lay as thick as stones” and schools of fish so plentiful that his men attempted to catch them with frying pans. 

One of General George Washington’s most profitable operations was his fishery.  In 1772, he caught over one million herring and 10,000 shad.  In 1886, one report estimated that 750 million shad were taken from the Potomac River during the eight-week season.  At the turn of the century, a Northern Virginia fisherman used a net with over five miles of total sweep operated by 100 men and eight horses.  Pre-World War II census tables reveal hundreds of Fairfax, Prince William and Stafford County citizens employed in fishing and aquaculture.    

The River’s Decline

Between 1950 and 1970, the picture changed.   Potomac fish populations and employment plummeted because of degraded water quality.  Poor water quality in the Chesapeake Bay caused similar population crashes in other species such as oysters and menhaden.  Today, there is only one family on Mason Neck still licensed as commercial fishermen in Fairfax County. 

Each year, Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality continues to list the Potomac estuaries as impaired for fish consumption and recreational uses due to PCB contamination and prevalence of e-coli bacteria and fecal coliform (largely from livestock and pet waste).  Lake Montclair in Prince William County is impaired for mercury in fish tissue.  Significant nitrogen loads frequently cause aquatic, life-killing algae blooms in the Chesapeake Bay. 

Some causes begin with livestock practices in the Shenandoah Valley; however, some also lie here in Northern Virginia – pollution flowing into the river from our stormwater runoff.  Most pre-1985 neighborhoods have zero stormwater controls.  

Northern Virginia’s streams continue to suffer. Almost 70 percent of Fairfax County’s streams are in fair to poor condition.  In my lifetime, I found crawfish, turtles, eels and fish in the small streams in the Mount Vernon area.  Today, decades of abuse from massive stormwater flows have left many of our local streams as biologically dead, over-eroded, litter-filled ditches fed by uncontrolled sewers. 

Action Needed

The solution will require more than litter enforcement and voluntary trash cleanups.  Because of Virginia’s failure to take the major steps necessary to solve these problems, EPA is forcing action.  Congressman Bob Goodlatte’s effort to emasculate EPA’s ability to hold Virginia accountable is a giant step backward. 

Requiring farmers to keep their cows from defecating in Virginia streams should not be controversial.  An upriver community should not be able to use their portion of the river in a way that destroys the river for those who live downstream. 

Legacy sites such as Dominion Power’s coal ash dumps at Possum Point in Prince William County should not be tolerated.  Coal ash is clearly linked to water pollution, especially when coal ash holding ponds are near water.  Dominion’s proposal to place only a dirt cap on the Possum Point pond is inadequate. 

Northern Virginia also needs to act.  The construction of high-quality transit on U.S. 1 should be prioritized. Not only will it bring carefully planned redevelopment, it can also modernize storm water infrastructure. Localities also must actually fund the plans they created a decade ago to restore our watersheds by building real storm water controls, those using low-impact approaches.   

The EPA is the only agency which has the authority to force action across all state lines.  Its authority must not be undermined so that Virginia is not the only state taking action.   

We should work together to solve problems instead of fighting attempts at progress, weakening environmental protections or turning enforcement measures into partisan fights. Clean water is not a partisan issue.  The Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River are shared assets that bind the Commonwealth of Virginia together and clean water is fundamental to our survival. 

It is an honor to serve as your state delegate.  Please email me at scott@scottsurovell.org if you have any feedback.

*Surovell is a candidate for Virginia’s 36th senate district.

Prince William schools should be most women-friendly district in Virginia

Opinion

The United States Navy just expanded their maternity leave because they are “continually looking for ways to recruit and retain the best people.”  Prince William county Schools (PWCS) should follow their lead.

Nationally, over 75% of public school teachers are women.  Not only will an attractive maternity leave policy show women the respect they deserve it will allow PWCS to draw a better candidate pool for open positions within the school system.    The policy will, in part, help pay for itself by increasing teacher retention that reduces costs by having to hire fewer teachers every year.

It’s time for Prince William County Schools to take the lead on becoming the most women-friendly school system in the Commonwealth.  Attracting and retaining the best teachers should be the goal of Prince William County Schools, and, in a female dominated profession, paid maternity leave is a step in that direction.

PWCS should offer paid maternity leave to new mothers who are teachers and full-time staff in our school system.  Just like Title IX, the long view of this policy, and subsequent pro-women policies will make PWCS the most pro-women school system in the Commonwealth, if not the country.  The new maternity leave policy can take many shapes and should be crafted with input from women and mothers with cooperation from the School Board and administration.

In their press release, the United States Navy stated, “For families, increased time following the birth of her child has tangible benefits for the physical and psychological health of both mother and child.”  They continued, “… there is the likelihood that women will return to and stay in her career, yielding higher readiness and retention.”  This would also apply to PWCS when it comes to attracting and retaining the best female teachers.

Currently, teachers must use their sick days for childbirth and maternity leave.  Young teachers often don’t have the accrued days to spend any significant time with their child.  They often even go into debt by taking leave without pay by having to pay more into health insurance out of their check once they do return to work.   Even if a teacher does have enough sick days accrued they then run out of days to use for follow up doctor visits for them or their child.  The current policy does not reflect the strong family values that our communities cherish.

Teachers should have more available to them for maternity leave other than their accrued sick days.  Counting on the “sick bank” (a pool of sick days voluntarily submitted by other PWCS employees) for additional time off is not something a new mother can reliably count on for maternity leave.

Therefore, as Chairman of the School Board I will work for Prince William County Schools to offer paid maternity leave to our employees.  I will also work closely with all groups involved to formulate a policy that keeps the balance between family values and fiscal responsibility.

*Ryan Sawyers is a candidate for School Board Chairman in Prince William County Schools. 

Evidence that the evil of racism resides here in our community

Opinion 

Recently, I had the honor of joining the Race Coalition of Fredericksburg at a beautiful commemoration of Juneteenth – a day of liberation. I reflect on how the day comes in a week that has been marked by a horrific event in Charleston – the ruthless murder of nine innocent people by a racist young man filled with hate and armed with a gun.

This tragedy shakes us to our core, but we have witnessed racially motivated violence before. That sense of fear and horror brings us back to the same question: When will this violence and terror finally end?

I search for words to try to stay uplifted and strong, so I can be an effective witness and an instrument for peace. I struggle with being so angry at this mayhem and the racism that caused it.

Every time I have to drive by that racist flag on I-95, evidence that the evil of racism resides here in our community, I feel this anger. It would be easy to give into it, but Dr. King told us, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Justice will be served. But to drive out the hate that brought this tragedy, we must love one another. I am reminded to keep building the Beloved Community that Dr. King wanted for us all. “The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends … It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”

And so, Juneteenth. A day born of celebration for the righting of a wrong. A day when justice and freedom were finally brought to an enslaved people. A day we can focus on goodwill and understanding, and building our Beloved Community.

I am running for the House of Delegates, and if I am given that honor of representing our community, I will do everything I can to make Juneteenth a state holiday so that our Commonwealth can spend this day working for freedom from fear, and freedom from hate as we build the Beloved Community that we all deserve.

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