Three of the six candidates running for the School Board special elections in the Broad Run and Leesburg districts shared their platforms Wednesday night during a forum hosted by Moms for Liberty Loudoun.
The forum included incumbent School Board member Andrew Hoyler (Broad Run), Broad Run District candidate Tiffany Polifko and Leesburg District candidate Michael Rivera.
Leesburg candidates Erika Ogedegbe and Lauren Shernoff and Broad Run candidate Nick Gothard did not take part. Gothard had called on the other candidates to drop out of the forum in advance, charging the national conservative group has championed hate against the LGBTQ community.
During the forum, Hoyler, who was appointed to the Board last October after Leslee King died, said he still had a lot more work to do on the board and that 11 months wasn’t enough time. He emphasized that the process to change a policy takes months and can’t be changed in a single board meeting.
Polifko said being a parent with children in Loudoun County Public Schools allows her to see what is going on from a parent’s perspective. Coupled with her professional experience with behavioral analysis and special education, she said she has what it takes to sit on the board and lend her expertise in those areas and bring about change.
Rivera, a father of two, said he never imagined he’d be in politics but decided to run because he felt parents’ rights were being attacked. “The bond between a mother and father and their child is something that nobody should ever get in between,” Rivera said. He said the schools need to focus more on academic instruction and remove identity politics from schools.
Polifko and Rivera both said the school budget is inflated.
“This year when the budget went up for review, the budget went up and enrollment went down,” Rivera said, suggesting taxpayers are being misled about the budget.
Hoyler said there are many issues that need to be addressed in terms of the capital improvement plan and capital asset preservation program, which he said needs to be increased because of the rising costs of construction and repairs. He pointed to the single bid the school system got to build a new middle school, in which the bidder offered a price of 25% over budget. Hoyler pointed out he tried to cut a number of things from the budget, including director or supervisor positions, but failed those motions failed by one vote.
“Until we can get a majority who won’t just simply agree with something in the budget because that is what staff wants in the budget, we aren’t going to see change,” Hoyler said.
He also differed from Polifko and Rivera on parents’ and schools’ role in raising children. He said for the majority of students he agreed, with their hand-off approach but said there are kids who don’t have parents at home to teach them life skills.
“There are small minorities who are truly affected by a lack of strong parenthood in their household for whatever reason. We also need to look out for the kids who otherwise would slip out through the cracks,” he said. “But saying a blanket statement that no the school shouldn’t be teaching any life lessons, that’s not something I agree with.”
“I can’t fathom why, when we have kids that are not reading on grade level, when we have kids with IEP’s that are getting their service capped because the school system can’t provide the resources or the teachers to manage those caseloads,” Polifko said. “Why are we focusing on teaching them about identity and implicit bias? We need to address the learning loss and focus on what needs to happen when our kids go to school which is that our schools exist to educate and it’s the parent’s responsibility to instill morality and values in their children.”
All three opposed collective bargaining.
Hoyler said as a pilot he’s seen the pro’s and con’s of unions and said he has listened with an open mind to the proposals from the Loudoun Education Association but has 19 issues with the proposal and said there are other ways to represent teachers. He said that he believes LEA has valuable perspective it can bring to the School Board because they represent roughly 40% of the teacher staff group. He said he has tried to bring LEA and Human Resources together because he believes teachers feedback should be included in policy.
Chapter Chair and Co-Founder of Moms for Liberty Loudoun Cheryl Onderchain said all six School Board candidates were invited to the forum, and that Shernoff said she couldn’t make it and Ogedegbe and Gothard did not respond.
Gothard said he did not want to lend legitimacy to the organization.
“Moms for Liberty on the national level has advocated extremely against our LGBTQ community, from perpetuating harmful stereotypes to advocating for discrimination and even segregating LGBTQ children and children with disabilities from other students. I am not spending my time legitimizing an organization that wants to divide our community and perpetuate hate against people we need to serve,” Gothard said. “So instead, I’m spending time in our community talking to students, teachers and families about real issues like literacy, school infrastructure, and STEM programs. We deserve an effective and driven leader that isn’t trying to hear out some of the most extreme ideologies and that will bring folks together and drive consensus on issues that matter. I’m disappointed that both my opponents chose to spend time at that forum rather than advocating for real issues.”
“We are a nonpartisan organization. We just want to educate voters. We’ve been the epicenter of so much over the last year and even though it’s a special election and even though these seats are for only one year, it’s still important to hear what these candidates have to say,” Onderchain said.
An email request for comment to Ogedegbe and Shernoff was not immediately returned.
School Board races are nonpartisan. Gothard and Ogedegbe have been endorsed by the Loudoun County Democratic Committee. Polifko and Rivera have been endorsed by the Loudoun County Republican Committee.