On January 2nd the Prince William County School Board will appoint one of six candidates to replace Woodbridge Board member Denita Ramirez until a special election is held, possibly as early as April, but more likely in November. According to PotomacLocal, the two leading candidates are Republican Chris Royse and Democrat Bruce Smith, and with a Republican-dominated board the conventional wisdom would hold that Royse, who is an outstanding candidate, would most likely be selected. That by no means settles the matter, however.
The school system immediately confused the issue with a press release stating that the special election “would be sometime in the spring of 2013″ even though the courts hadn’t decided when the election would take place and that the last two times an appointment was made the special election was held in November. This predictably caused PWC Democrats to howl in outrage, assuming that a special election in April in the Woodbridge District would provide an advantage to Republicans. Not that Republicans have much of a successful track record for elections at any time in the Woodbridge District, but Democrats will do whatever it takes for them to maintain and solidify their grip in Woodbridge.
If Royse (see his presentation here) is selected, he’s going to have a very narrow opportunity to distinguish himself and earn voter loyalty if he’s to survive the electoral trial of running for election in Woodbridge, regardless of whether that happens in April or November. With the school board already part-way through their budget development cycle there aren’t a whole lot of opportunities to distinguish oneself in such a short period of time, but Royse is definitely a creative, big ideas guy much beyond what other candidates vying for this position are likely to offer, so he’s got the best chance of any of them to pull this off. Royse pretty much would have no choice but to show up at his first meeting with a slew of budget proposals and detailed financial questions for the Superintendent, as Pete Candland has done this year, but without the benefit of a citizens budget committee chock full of financial experts to help him.
This would be hugely disruptive to the typical budget development cycle for the school board, which usually consists of little more than Dr. Walts telling the board how much money they need to spend and a majority of the board dutifully impersonating bobble-head dolls. Asking detailed questions about why the cost-per-employee among the Superintendent’s staff could be a whopping $171,000 a year, why it costs on average $131,000 to staff the communications department with people so expertly capable of screwing up press releases, and why unarmed security “specialists” cost the school system on average nearly $100,000 a year is going to cause a bit of chaos. Royse could also question things such as why we’re spending $5 million a year warehousing supplies when businesses have long-ago abandoned this system of asset management, threatening all sorts of fiefdoms at the Taj Mahal. If he at least made enough noise to make folks uncomfortable and cause some re-evaluation of the out of control spending within the school system that could be re-directed to more productive pursuits, he could earn a lot of voter loyalty and actually survive an election, but would likely make some other board members feel somewhat uncomfortable.
If the board appointed Bruce Smith (see his presentation here), that kind of pressure to perform simply wouldn’t be there. Smith, who by all accounts is a hard-core leftist eager to coddle illegal aliens and spend money like there’s no tomorrow, could easily sit back and do nothing and easily win an election in that district since that’s what Democrats in Woodbridge actually seem to want. There’s virtually no chance Smith would be disruptive to the School Board or staff, since they’re already following the Democrat governance model to a large degree where authority is handed over to a bureaucrat elite and accountability only comes into play when there’s a chance to scream about racism or homophobia. As long as he didn’t push too hard with some sort of “progressive” agenda, he’d probably get along fine with everyone.
Selecting any of the other candidates would likely be an utter waste of effort for the Board, as none of them would seem to have any chance to survive an election in Woodbridge unless Democrats suddenly decided to support them rather than running Bruce Smith against them, which isn’t going to happen. A few months in office does not a legacy build when you’re on the wrong side of the electoral divide in a district, as Mike Wooten can easily attest. Woodbridge, with strong Democrat incumbents at the Board of Supervisors, House of Delegates, State Senate and Congressional levels is absolutely not the place to try running for office your first time out if you’re not a part of the machine. Whenever the special election happens, it’s going to be a fight between Royse and Smith. Royse wins if he can distinguish himself. Every other scenario, absent some monumental screw-up by Smith puts him in office where he’ll stay for a long time.
Putting someone on that board with an imperative that he needs to quickly prove himself could potentially cause some dramatic improvement at the school board in the same way that Pete Candland has so quickly caused change at the Board of Supervisors level where he eliminated discretionary funds, pushed for spending restraint and forced some much-needed ethical reforms through. The decision of the Board whether to appoint him will tell us a lot about whether the board has any appetite for improving itself, and whether it has any tolerance for the kind of pain such a transition would inevitably entail.
UPDATE: PWC Education Reform is reporting that the special election will be held on April 9th. The Circuit Court ordered an election to be held “on or before” the general election, and apparently left the details up to the registrar. The registrar is apparently deferring to the attorney for the School Board on the timing, who apparently is asking for an early special election. Interesting.
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