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Candidates Face Tough Questions in Latest Forum

With Election Day less than a month away, candidates for the Arlington County Board and School Board are honing in on their final pitches to voters.

And at a forum Wednesday night at Marymount University hosted by the Arlington Committee of 100, the six candidates clashed on a range of issues, from how to engage more millennials in county government to closing the achievement gap in Arlington Public Schools.

The format varied from previous forums, as each candidate was able to ask a question of their opponents before taking further questions from the audience.

Erik Gutshall and Monique O’Grady, who were victorious in the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s caucus earlier this year for County Board and School Board, respectively, both touted their experience in county issues.

Both agreed that while Arlington is largely on the right course, it can do better. Gutshall, who is the current chair of the Planning Commission, said the county must not make too many concessions to developers on proposed site plans.

“If we don’t stick to our plans and our negotiations… and we don’t stick to our values, then we’ve lost,” he said.

Independent County Board candidate Audrey Clement pointed to her regular attendance at the body’s monthly meetings as relevant experience.

And fellow independent Charles McCullough II said that beyond his involvement in the South Arlington Working Group among others, he would represent a fresh face with new ideas if elected to the County Board.

“We need to have other ideas, other experiences,” he said.

On the budget, Clement criticized the Board’s practice of spending closeout funds from higher tax revenue than anticipated. She said that the money should be paid forward to the following year to relieve the tax burden, rather than directed to “pet projects to satisfy its particularized constituencies.”

McCullough argued that developers in Arlington must pay their “fair share” to help make up budget shortfalls, while Gutshall said that rising property values must not be treated as a “blank check” for increased spending.

Among the School Board candidates, there were some sharp differences. O’Grady and fellow candidate Alison Dough agreed that the Arlington Career Center represents a “good opportunity” for a fourth comprehensive high school. But Mike Webb, running for School Board after an unsuccessful tilt at Rep. Don Beyer’s (D-Va.) seat in the U.S. House of Representatives last year, disagreed.

Instead, he said, School Board members should focus on ensuring instruction is as good as possible, and that no students are left behind.

“Before we build another high school, we have to think about the achievement gap that affects all our students,” Webb said.

And on the subject of the upcoming boundary changes in Arlington Public Schools, Dough said that more immersion schools where classes are taught in more than one language could help relieve the capacity pressures on other buildings.

Dough, who said her special needs child inspired her to run for School Board, suggested more language programs, like immersion in Chinese, French or Russian to help APS students embrace new cultures.

“Let’s look at the boundary issue differently and give our parents a reason to switch schools,” she said.

And with the nationwide opioid epidemic also touching Arlington, O’Grady said parents and students alike must be educated on the risks and solutions.

“It’s in our neighborhoods, it’s in our communities,” she said. “Let’s come together to learn how to deal with this.”

All six agreed on the need for elected officials to encourage more county residents to get involved, and help uphold the so-called “Arlington Way.”

“We need to be opening that door,” Webb said. “We have to build that pathway to leadership.”

The candidates will face off in another forum Sunday (October 15) hosted by the local chapter of the League of Women Voters at Arlington Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street).

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