At-large school board candidate Greg Brandon has been a PTA president, treasurer and volunteer for the past five years.
But in that time, he's found his groups and others like them aren't involved in Fairfax County Schools policy discussions early enough to make a difference.
“Teachers and parent activists need to be involved in program and policy discussions from the get go; at the end it’s too late. We don’t have to be the critics of the school system that we are — we’re critics for good reason, but we’d have fewer critics if we were invited inside the tent sooner rather than later.”
The issue was one of the motivations for the retired Navy officer to run for an at-large seat on the Fairfax County School Board. Brandon is one of six at-large Democratic candidates who will seek three endorsements from the Fairfax County Democrats later this month.
Brandon, who has two children at Longfellow Middle School, has a bachelor of arts in psychology from Washington College in Chestertown, Md.; an MBA from Marymount University in Arlington, and a master’s degree in political management from George Washington University. He spent more than 16 years as a surface warfare officer in the Navy. His wife, Navy Captain Kathy McGrath, died on active duty in 2002.
He’s served as president, treasurer and volunteer with the Chesterbrook Elementary and Longfellow Middle School PTAs. He’s also a member of the McLean Citizens Association Education & Youth Committee, the Fairfax Education Coalition and the Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce.
Patch recently spoke with Brandon about why he’s running, fiscal responsibility and other issues he hopes to address as a member of the school board.
On deciding to run for school board:
Though he’d served on local school groups for several years, Brandon became more involved in school issues three years ago, as the advocacy group Fairgrade fought for, and successfully implemented, a 10-point grading scale. The scale allowed county schools to give students an A for all scores between 90 and 100; set the passing bar at a score of 60; and weighted scores in AP and honors classes so they were counted more heavily when calculating grade point average
Today, some of those honors courses are “disappearing from course catalogs,” he said.
“What about the kids in the middle?” he said. “Those honors courses give students choices. They can help manage stress.”
As a stay-at-home father, Brandon said he has the ability to be a full-time school board member, which means he’ll have more time to research, analyze, initiate dialogue and engage with the community at school events.
He also wants to help tighten the county's budget. While treasurer of Longfellow’s PTA, he said he researched and bargained to purchase new chairs for $24 a piece — less than half of the $54 per chair that the school’s vendor had offered.
“The point is if we can find some savings there, there’s got to be other savings we can find,” he said.
It’s been about 10 years since FCPS discipline policy has been reviewed, and while a new review process is under way, Brandon said “it’s a shame that it’s taken the loss of two lives to bring that issue to the floor.”
“Disciplinary reform doesn’t mean we’re going to let drugs, alcohol and violence run rampant in the classrooms. We’ve got to protect students, teachers and staff. But when a kid gets in trouble we have to protect them in the ‘interrogation room’ and that hasn’t been done," Brandon said.
On start times:
Brandon thinks the county needs to revisit the issue of school start times and adjust them to allow teens more sleep.
“Transportation and school bus schedules can be adjusted so that students have more sleep and don’t have to get up at O’dark thirty,” Brandon said. “This doesn’t mean pushing everything back and hour or an hour and a half, there are other ways to do that than this falsehood that has spread about school activities and practices being pushed far into the evening.”
Brandon said some of the the money schools carry over each year — about $120 million, on average — is unencumbered carryover: unspent money that makes up about 6 percent of the schools budget.
“A decent unencumbered ratio is 3 percent,” Brandon said. “We should have more money to spend, or, it should be returned to the taxpayer.”
He also wants to work more closely with the Board of Supervisors — who have given the schools a flat transfer for at least two consecutive years — to demonstrate that “we’re going to need more help with the budget.”
The schools should conduct a bottom-up, top-down review of school headquarters staffing by an outside firm, to see how much more efficient the central office could be, and how the system may be able to utilize those savings.
He’d also like to pursue the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, given to groups, companies and organizations with efficient management framework, a workforce and operations focus, strategic planning, assessment analysis, among other best practices. Montgomery County Schools earned the award in 2010.
“It encourages organizations to take a look across the board at procedures to justify how they do business,” Brandon said. “It’s always good to strive and look for improvement.”
The Fairfax County Democrats will select three at-large candidates to endorse at its meeting on May 24. The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. at Falls Church High School.