Incumbent Sarah Chase is being challenged in her bid for reelection to the Falmouth District seat on the Stafford County School Board by write-in candidate Scott Hirons, who held the seat from 2014 to 2017.
Write-in candidate Scott Hirons is challenging incumbent Sarah Chase in her bid for reelection to the Falmouth District seat on the Stafford County School Board. Hirons, a government contractor who has children in Stafford schools, held the seat from 2014–17.
Hirons, a government contractor who has children in Stafford schools, said he had considered running for the Falmouth District post earlier this year and decided against it, but changed his mind last month and decided to mount a write-in campaign for the Nov. 2 election.
“Watching the debacle that was the start of the school year, in particular with transportation problems and just no communication with the parents—it was just kind of a real mess and that built my frustration,” Hirons said in an interview.
Falmouth School Board member Sarah Chase said she decided to seek reelection to maintain continuity on the board as the school division recovers from the pandemic, faces the possibility of a redistricting and hires a new superintendent.
Chase, a psychology professor at St. Mary’s College in Maryland, said that the past 18 months as a School Board member have been difficult, but that she decided to seek re-election to maintain continuity on the board as the school division recovers from the pandemic, faces the possibility of a redistricting and hires a new superintendent.
Three of the four incumbents who are up for re-election this year have decided to step away. If re-elected to a second term, Chase would have the most experience of any other board member with the exception of Rock Hill representative Patricia Healy.
“Come January, we will have a very new board,” Chase said. “[I] think its important to have some continuity, especially with respect to COVID. A lot of relief funds have come to the school system and it is important that with all these new members understand what the policies are, what has been allocated and what’s happening as we move forward.”
Hirons said he is hearing from families who are upset with the transportation problems that have plagued the start of the new school year and the schedule change approved over the summer, which has elementary schools starting earlier and high schools starting later.
He said the School Board is to blame for some of the problems by not prioritizing communication with families and not planning better.
“The biggest problem was the School Board didn’t look to the future of getting back into the schools,” he said. “In my opinion, they weren’t asking the right questions of administration, such as: ‘Are we ready? Do we have enough bus drivers?’ They should have prioritized making sure we had the essentials to get children to school, get them fed and get them educated.”
Chase said it is important for the community to understand that transportation has been a challenge for school divisions across the nation for several years that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
“It is everywhere and I think we are making progress,” she said. “We have adjusted salaries upwards to attract more people to the job. We were asked to make adjustments to the schedule—though I am not in favor of adjustments that take away instructional time, so I was in the minority on that decision.”
Chase said she will continue to advocate “very strongly” for infrastructure improvements to existing school buildings and for building new schools to meet projected growth.
She said she has a good personal working relationship with her Falmouth District counterpart on the Board of Supervisors—Meg Bohmke, who is also up for re-election this year—which helps her communicate the school division’s funding needs.
The Falmouth District mostly covers the area immediately east of Interstate 95 from the village of Falmouth north to Eskimo Hill Road, with a sliver extending west of the interstate along Truslow Road.
Hirons said he took a similar approach while on the School Board, meeting with two supervisors to successfully craft a funding plan for the rebuild of Moncure Elementary School.
“The School Board needs to work with the Board of Supervisors on finding the funding mechanisms to fund new schools,” he said. “Going into the future, we need high school No. 6 and we’re getting close to needing No. 7, and there are certainly needs for more elementary and middle schools as well. Those aren’t going to come easily. But we need to work with the board and prioritize our spending to help build the classrooms that are desperately needed.”
Chase said she wants to continue to work on improving teacher recruitment and retention.
“The problem Stafford has is we are having to bring in brand new teachers and that’s because of funding,” she said. “When our retiring salaries for teachers are $50,000 less than salaries in Prince William County, we have a very hard time keeping teachers.”
She said the School Board has made some progress in this area in the past four years by eliminating the 15-year cap on experience, approving bonuses and returning health insurance savings to staff.
Hirons said he wants to retain teachers through compensation and reducing class sizes.
Chase said that having served on the board throughout the pandemic, her “number one priority” right now is to “keep children in school for in-person instruction.”
“I see in my students the cost of the past year,” she said.
Hirons said improving communication is a top goal for him.
“Communication has always been a big thing with me,” he said. “In my term, it was one of the things I really worked on. I’ve seen over last four years communication has fallen off.”