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Why I’m Voting for Keys-Gamarra for Fairfax County School Board in the 8/29 Special Election

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On Tuesday, I will be voting for Karen Keys-Gamarra for an at-large Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) School Board position in a special election.  While there are many reasons for this choice, here are two that truly stand out:

1. Planning Commissioner: Keys-Gamarra’s experience on the Planning Commission will help foster better School Board — and, therefore, hopefully Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) — work in integrating the FCPS major (over $150 million per year) building program better with the County government’s planning staff.

  • Like many political districts, Fairfax County is actually quite fragmented — with County Government, FCPS, Parks, Fire and Rescue often seeming to be loosely associated rather than a ‘common government’.
  • Construction — and interaction with the Planning Commission — has been one arena of such disconnect and it has had real impacts (dollars, design options, land use choices) on FCPS schools.
  • When discussing options for school buildings and/or renovation, more than once FCSP senior staff have made comments (heard multiple times at FPAC meetings) along the lines of “we don’t have the permit to do that and it would take too long”.
  • While often quite technical, one result has been a number of ‘horizontal’ rather than ‘vertical’ renovations due to zoning restrictions that had not been addressed in a timely manner by FCPS with the Planning Commission.  By ‘going horizontal’, there are multiple costs including higher energy use & maintenance costs along with building encroachment on/elimination of open space and playing fields (and, quite simply, Fairfax County doesn’t have excess playing fields to throw away).
  • In discussions of, for example, Haycock Elementary School’s renovation (which was one of those horizontal renovations with a loss of open field), an Assistant Superintendent responded to a parent’s question as to why something couldn’t be done: “That’s a County issue. You’d have to talk to them.”
  • The parent, in that situation, gave an answer that spoke — I think — to what almost all citizens think (and, well, deserve to expect): “I don’t understand this pointing of fingers. I’m paying taxes. I’m paying your salaries. You’re all “County Government” to me.  Pointing fingers about inability to work together isn’t what I expect.”
  • Keys-Gamarra’s experience as a Planning Commissioner will provide a voice on the School Board to bridging the County-School System divide to foster better use of capital improvement budgets.

2. Troubled Youth Advocate:  In her legal practice and otherwise Keys-Gamarra has had significant experience working with and on behalf of troubled youth. As a Court Appointed Special Advocate and as a Court-appointed guardian, Gamarra has had the chance (the responsibility?) to be engaged dealing with youth with a wide range of (sadly, likely too often, serious) problems.

  • Dealing with cases that risk expulsion and can have a heavy impact on a youth’s life (and the school community) happens behind closed doors at the School Board. Without questioning that everyone involved seeks, in their own way, to take their responsibilities seriously, leaked out into public (suicides and otherwise) have been cases where reasonable people can have very reasonable reasons for seeing how things have gone wrong.  And, many of those involved with FCPS know of non/less publicized cases (the neighbor’s kid, etc …) where ‘the system’ didn’t work.
  • Again, not questioning that everyone involved in such discipline procedures takes this seriously, having a School Board member with significant professional experience working with troubled youth will provide a valuable voice and perspective in these very difficult (closed-door) procedures.

These two reasons motivate me to go to the polls, Tuesday, to vote for Karen Keys-Gamarra.

However, we don’t need to stop there in terms of Keys-Gamarra‘s experience, capabilities, and passion:

  • Broadly experienced attorney (bankruptcy, consumer concerns, family law, employment discrimination, union disputes and regulatory matters) who will be able to engage, with real understanding, with FCPS lawyers when/if complex legal issues drive School Board options and decision-making.
  • Service as an Advisory Board member for a domestic violence non-profit organization will provide a valued perspective for any School Board engagement with concepts for how to help youth deal with such domestic challenges.
  • Experience with a non-profit organization established to address truck safety regulations nationwide could provide insight when dealing with school bussing. (Note: FCPS has one of the largest school bus systems in the nation.)
Does who endorse you say anything about you?

While there are many reasons to vote for Karen Keys-Gamarra, another motivating factor is a need to vote against the alternative.  Putting aside who has endorsed him, it is troubling that the only issue of prominence on his website is a defense of “J.E.B. Stuart” as a legitimate name for an educational institution in the 21st century. Here’s what the Washington Post had to say about Chris Grisafe when he ran for Supervisor:

[Grisafe] lacks any experience or qualification for the job. Mr. Grisafe’s grasp of policy and politics is so tissue-thin … that alone should disqualify him.

So, on Tuesday, I encourage everyone to vote for Karen Keys-Gamarra for Fairfax County School Board.  Her passion and experience should help the School Board be more effective in managing taxpayer resources in its built infrastructure, in dealing with discipline issues, in navigating difficult legal issues, and in enhancing the Fairfax County Public School’s position as one of the leading public educational systems in the nation.

NOTE:  Last night, the McLean Civic Association held a School Board debate.  Video here.