By Chris DeRosa
Note: The person-to-person activities described in this article have been suspended to ensure health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. The volunteers’ research, paperwork and electronic organization continue.
Kent* was in a local homeless shelter, discouraged and confused. He had completed his felony sentence years ago, but he had a disability, no job, and an uncertain future. A visitor wearing a t-shirt that said “Spread the Vote” asked if he wanted to request to have his civil rights restored. He was a bit leery, but he sat with her for a few minutes as they completed the online form.
Then it was a matter of waiting. It took nearly 8 months and many emails and phone calls to the Eastern District Federal Court and Federal Bureau of Prisons, plus calls to Richmond. In October 2018, his request was finally granted. Kent registered to vote, and has voted in every election since then. He also is in his own apartment now and his outlook on life is much brighter.
Many such citizens have been disenfranchised in Virginia because of a felony conviction. After completing their sentence and probation, they have a legal right to vote, but must apply to have their voting rights restored. Many don’t realize they can do this; many don’t have access to a computer to submit an application.
Carolina* was in her building’s computer room, fretting and near tears. Her ID had expired; without a current ID, she could not start her new job. A friend told her to contact Spread the Vote. A volunteer met with Carolina a couple of days later and ordered a birth certificate for her; after it arrived, she drove Carolina to the DMV. Carolina got her legal photo ID (paid for by STV), started her new job, and continues happily raising her two adorable little boys.
Kent and Carolina are but two of Arlington and Falls Church citizens who, for various reasons, don’t have government-issued photo IDs. Many cannot vote because of a prior felony conviction (voting rights can be restored but must be applied for); others just don’t have a photo ID due to circumstances like a lost birth certificate.
Without a government-issued ID, many also face barriers to housing, employment, and healthcare; they can’t cash a check or open a bank account. They need an ID for life. That’s where the trained volunteers from Spread the Vote can provide encouragement and experience to frustrated clients.
Spread the Vote/Project ID is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that aims to remedy these situations. It is staffed largely by volunteers who are working in communities throughout Virginia and in many other states. What do these states have in common? They all require voters to have photo IDs in order to vote. It’s estimated that 21 million Americans do not have government-issued photo IDs, though they are legally entitled to them.
Isn’t it easy to get an ID? That’s what I thought. How wrong I was! Many don’t have the money to pay for their IDs or the required documents such as birth certificates. Some have lost their documents when they slept under a bridge on a rainy night; others had their backpacks stolen as they napped on the Metro. Many have gone to the DMV to try and get an ID, but were turned away and gave up. Frustrating. Not easy at all.
Spread the Vote/Project ID volunteers have donated hundreds of hours to help our Virginia neighbors. This involves spending up to 6 hours meeting with each client, driving them to the DMV and SSA, and following up with agencies. Nationwide, Spread the Vote has obtained nearly 5,000 legal photo IDs. That includes IDs for over 1,000 Virginians, plus around 250 birth certificates. Spread the Vote/Project ID pays the cost of obtaining IDs and necessary supporting documents. The average cost of getting a valid photo ID is $40. (Non-citizens with visas and green cards can also get IDs.)
*Names have been changed to protect individuals’ identity.
Chris DeRosa is a longtime Arlingtonian and is the leader of the Arlington/Falls Church chapter of Spread the Vote/Project ID, a nonprofit, non-partisan organization.
By Wesley Joe and Carly Lenhoff
Public conversations about juvenile justice can quickly escalate into pitched battles. They involve some of the highest stakes: fateful decisions about the future of children. Unfortunately, these conversations often devolve into unproductive conflict. While some disagreements are inevitable and healthy, many become needlessly mired in unproductive disputes over basic facts. Arlington Public Schools (APS) can reduce some of this deliberative drag by collecting and sharing more data, and by making its existing data more accessible.
Reaching a community consensus about how to address a problem begins with agreement about key facts. Unfortunately, public stakeholders currently lack the information necessary to resolve controversies of fact regarding many serious student discipline issues.
For example, there is much discussion of the role of school resource officers (SROs) on school campuses. In May 2018, APS and the Arlington County Police Department signed an updated Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that more clearly defines the respective roles and responsibilities of SROs and APS personnel. Yet public stakeholders currently have no way to assess the impact of these measures on student life and achievement. The MOU does not specify criteria for “success.” Nor does it require the collection and disclosure of data needed to monitor compliance with and the effects of its provisions.
One potential solution is the adoption of a policy for routine, publicly reported assessment of the impacts of the MOU and other major discipline-related policies. The assessment process would generate and report useful data. For example, one MOU goal is to minimize the incidence of informal requests for law enforcement assistance with discipline that does not involve violations of law. APS’s presentation to the School Board in January reported no data about this issue. A thorough assessment would include, for example, demographic information about students whose conduct is informally referred to SROs, student perceptions of SROs, and the like. Within the limits required to respect student privacy, stakeholders need this kind of information to contribute more productively to policy conversations.
Progressive Voice is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the authors’.
Virginia’s presidential primary is March 3, so the editors of Progressive Voice asked Arlington supporters of a few Democratic presidential candidates to answer this question: “How would my candidate be best at connecting with undecided voters across the U.S. to show how Democrats can reflect and serve them?” (The choice of candidates to cover was solely that of the Progressive Voice editors.)
Brenda Eribo on Pete Buttigieg: Americans of all stripes have more in common than not. Pete Buttigieg’s empathy, character and service orientation tap into what unites us on big important issues. In Iowa, he came in first among healthcare and climate change issue voters because his progressive policies balance ambition with the possibility of realistically being effectuated.
Conscious of generational impact, Pete asks not only “is it bold enough” but also “can it be paid for responsibly.” It’s why his ambitious healthcare reform is a fraction of the cost of others and his Douglass Plan to dismantle systemic racism is the boldest, most comprehensive out there!
Most Americans support a version of the pragmatic progressive reforms Pete proposes on climate, healthcare, education, labor, immigration, guns, infrastructure, racial justice, national security, global leadership, and the economy. Being audacious yet sensible will expand our coalition and help down-ballot Democratic candidates change the balance in Congress. Onward together!
A longtime Arlington resident, Brenda Eribo has recently been devoting most of her free time to volunteering for Democratic candidates at the expense of more frequent walks along Four Mile Run Trail and nurturing her community garden plot. Embracing her West African and Eastern European roots and interest in social justice, Brenda serves as national founder of Theta Nu Xi Multicultural Sorority, Inc. and is actively involved in the VA for Pete grassroots organization.
Debbie and Sam Kirzner on Amy Klobuchar: We support Amy Klobuchar to be the next President of the United States. Amy is experienced with an established track record of getting things done and working across the aisle. She holds the record in sponsoring bills that have been enacted, dwarfing that of her competitors. And, she wins. She wins in the Midwest and in rural districts. She had record turnout. She is wildly popular in Minnesota, a state that Trump almost won.
Amy has practical policies to address the issues that all people care about. Strengthening Medicare, addressing climate change, sensible gun safety, expanding economic growth and security through infrastructure improvements, educational opportunities and retirement reform.
Other candidates focus on far-left ideas that are widely unpopular and unaffordable. This is a must-win election. Amy will have wide appeal in the general election, with support from Democrats, independents and disaffected Republicans.
Let’s nominate someone who will win.
Debbie and Sam Kirzner are both retired and very active with Arlington Democrats and volunteer with several local cultural institutions.
Carole Lieber on Joe Biden: On the campaign trail, people shared they voted for Joe because they know and trust him. Joe connects personally. He speaks with everyone at an event. He listens, he relates. His volunteers and staff reflect our diversity. An African American staffer shared “He knows us, he grew up with us, he is us.” He has humble roots; at a young age his father lost his job, his family had to move to find work. As a young man he lost his wife and daughter in a car accident, soon raising two young boys as a single dad and dealing with mounting hospital bills. He later worried as his son Beau served our country bravely overseas, later mourning his death from cancer. Voters relate to these struggles. Joe will restore the soul of our nation. He models our democratic values, we can trust him, and he can beat Trump. Vote Joe!
Carole Lieber lives in South Arlington and is a community organizer and grassroots activist. She is a former President of Arlington Heights Civic Association, delegate to the Arlington County Civic Federation, appointed Human Rights Commissioner, and volunteer with multiple community organizations.
Maggie Davis on Elizabeth Warren: Dream Big, Fight Hard. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s rallying cry for Democrats speaks to both her philosophy of leadership and tenacity as a campaigner. A progressive with a strong record of transforming big policy ideas into reality, Sen. Warren has both the vision to inspire voters and the skills to effectuate change within the existing systems of Washington.
She spoke truth to power while building the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Engaging with voters in hours long selfie lines following her campaign rallies, she has touched voters of all walks of life and their stories have informed her numerous policy proposals. A clear anti-corruption leader, she directly contrasts the rampant corruption within the Trump Administration. With an eye toward defeating Donald Trump in November, we need a Democratic candidate that unites the party and inspires the Democratic base to turn out to vote for them. Sen. Warren is that candidate.
Originally from Ohio, Maggie Davis has called Arlington her home since 2013. An attorney by training, she works as an emergency management law and policy analyst and is an active Arlington Democrat.
Zeinab El-Rewini on Bernie Sanders: Too often, members of the Democratic Party have abandoned the people of this country – and of other countries – to appease the interests of wealthy donors, large corporations, and war profiteers. Bernie Sanders is a different kind of Democratic politician – one who consistently takes the just position, no matter the political cost.
No other candidate’s platform is more beneficial for working-class folks than Bernie’s, which includes a firm commitment to a single-payer healthcare system, debt-free public college, and medical/student loan debt cancellation. And no other candidate has the massive, diverse, grassroots volunteer army that helped Bernie win in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Yes, Bernie is an old white man. So what? His policies are more uplifting to young people, minorities, and women than those of any other candidate.
Undecided voters will be swayed by Bernie’s moral courage, unprecedented outreach efforts, and consistent 40-year track record of championing progressive policies.
Zeinab El-Rewini is a recent graduate of the University of North Dakota. Soon after moving to Arlington, she began volunteering with the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.
By Madaline Langston
While various panels and programs have explored racism in Arlington, dozens of students recently took a different tack, using site visits, interviews with community members, and creative drama to “Flip the Script.”
About 10 student actors — both black and white — interviewed local and academic historians and visited African-American communities before returning to their rehearsal space to devise a historically based play, “The Day Nothing Happened.” The stories they heard resonated with these young actors and compelled them to confront the difficult issues that African-American students still experience today.
During one visit to Arlington’s Hall’s Hill neighborhood, the students were astonished that a wall had been built in the 1930s to physically separate the African-American community from surrounding white neighborhoods, as if hidden from a society uncomfortable with our mere existence. The response of the students was of hurt, anger and disbelief. A portion of that wall still stands today as a reminder of the past injustices and present inequalities.
The play is structured around one day in 1959 when four black teenagers entered an all-white school for the first time in Virginia, with scenes and interactions from “on the bus, homeroom and cafeteria.” Parents’ concerns were woven in, too, such as a scene from the night before the four entered school.
Performances of the drama made powerful impressions on some in the audience. Claudine Bostick Sangaré, parent of one of the actors, said, “I recently witnessed an elderly black man, visibly moved and crying during the show.” She also recounted a Latina woman’s shock at learning Stratford Junior High (now known as Dorothy Hamm Middle School), located in her “backyard,” was that first school in Virginia to desegregate long ago.
Sangaré said her own 14-year-old daughter drew parallels to the experiences of her character in the play — one of the four black teenagers — and her current school environment. “Since her involvement with ‘Flip the Script,’ my teenage child had to become emotionally attached to the history to channel feelings of angst, anxiety and fear to portray her character.”
In the creative process leading to the drama, actors and others reflected on what they had heard and learned. “I have definitely gone through a roller coaster of emotions,” said one actor. “I was nervous to be vulnerable and raw, but ultimately excited to shed light on a story that is often swept under the rug.”
By John Giambalvo
Student enrollment projections by Arlington Public Schools (APS) impact all Arlington residents, and have a direct impact on spending for new schools, school bonds and debt service, parking and traffic, for example — which directly affect quality of life, property values and taxes. With Arlington’s population growing for the foreseeable future, APS must have accurate projections for effective school construction planning.
APS and Arlington County have made strides recently in sharing information to improve projection accuracy. For example, the county now shares residential construction information with APS that not only improves aggregate projections, but also helps APS understand where the growth will likely take place and which schools it will affect.
However, despite all the data analysis, these projections remain part art. The latest projections anticipate about 3,200 fewer students for 2028-29 than were projected in Fall 2018; and this significant difference potentially affects the school system’s new Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). The CIP is a project and financial planning document covering a 10-year period and is updated every two years.
APS now estimates enrollment will grow to about 31,000 students five years from now and then level off over the subsequent five years (versus continued steady growth as previously projected), despite an estimated 1,400 housing units coming online annually in the next decade. This odd stalling of student growth — despite robust residential construction–is based on a lower projected birth rate. While the lower birth rate is based on expert input, I believe we must be prepared if this does not come to pass and thus student population grows more than anticipated or grows in areas where we are already struggling to provide sufficient school seats. But how?
Continued improvement in information-sharing between APS and the county will help, as more data generally yields better accuracy. But, this needs to then go one step further.
The county is a critical partner. It controls policy and development decisions that directly impact APS, and over which APS has no control. Approving new residential housing, especially with increased density, is a County Board function as is attracting Amazon and other businesses to the county. APS must be able to successfully educate the additional students arising from new housing units and businesses. The best way to do this is for the county to be even more explicit and comprehensive in weighing how its decisions on housing and economic development could impact student growth.
By Patrick Hope
Virginia continues to make strides to reform our behavioral health system. Too many Virginians, some of them children and adolescents, lack access to basic preventive care and emergency intervention services. Many end up in our criminal justice system rather than being provided the necessary treatment to avoid such occurrences.
To address the gap, we in the General Assembly are laying a solid foundation on two fronts aimed at prevention–STEP-VA and Behavioral Health Redesign–with Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed FY2021-22 budget making significant investments.
STEP-VA (System Transformation Excellence and Performance) was initiated to improve access, consistency, quality, and accountability of community-based behavioral health services.
- Same-day Access: The goal is to provide same-day access to a behavioral health assessment for anyone in crisis and to reduce wait times for services. We measure success when an individual can receive a follow-up appointment within 10 days from the initial assessment.
- Primary Care Screening: The goal in Phase 1 is to identify individuals who pose the greatest risk for physical health issues and connect them to primary care. Frequently, someone in crisis also has other health care issues: diabetes, heart disease, asthma, obesity. You have to treat the whole person and CSBs (Community Services Boards) have to connect the individual to primary care too. In Phase 2, we will expand primary care screenings to all consumers.
Since 2018, Virginia has appropriated over $60 million toward this effort, launching 2 of the 9 steps set for completion July 2021.
Behavioral Health Redesign seeks to integrate all behavioral health services to provide a continuum of care. The focus is on access to services that are: high quality regardless of the setting (e.g., home, school, and primary care); evidence-based (e.g., preventive care and care provided in a least restrictive environment); trauma-informed to yield better outcomes; and cost effective.
The goal with Redesign is to provide alternatives to involuntary hospitalization (Temporary Detention Orders or TDOs) and lower our reliance on inpatient psychiatric beds. Virginia still lacks alternatives to crisis services, such as outpatient treatment, leading to a significant increase in the number of court-ordered TDOs. My legislative efforts in the 2020 session will be to make reforms so that we can provide more appropriate care in a least restrictive environment.
By Tara Teaford and Dana Milburn
As mothers, our priorities center on our children’s health, well-being, happiness, and yes — definitely — their safety. As progressives, we support measures to promote those rights for everyone, everywhere.
Such is the case with preventing gun violence. We cannot fathom the pain suffered by parents who lose a child to gun violence — especially at school, which should be a safe place of learning and joy. We both took more active roles in preventing gun violence after witnessing the horror of continued mass shootings, especially at schools, and the staggering toll of daily gun violence that does not make the evening news. We cannot and should not consider this gun violence crisis acceptable.
Every day in America, 100 people are shot and killed, four of them children. We are fortunate to live in Arlington, a community with relatively little gun violence, but we are no more immune than Newtown, Las Vegas, Jersey City, Virginia Beach and many other American communities were when they were shattered by gun massacres. Arlington has experienced several shootings in the past year. And our neighbors in D.C. experience almost daily gun violence partly because Virginia’s lax gun laws help enable that violence via the “Iron Pipeline,” with guns trafficked up and down the I-95 corridor.
Now, finally having elected a Democratic majority in the House of Delegates, Senate and governorship, Virginia has an historic opportunity to make all Virginians safer. We gratefully support the Arlington delegation’s plans to help make real change happen in the upcoming session of the General Assembly.
We expect the bills introduced this January in Richmond to be very similar to those proposed for the July 9, 2019, Special Session on gun violence prevention, which the then-Republican majority ended without action. These and other potential legislation are designed to work together to address the gun violence crisis for Virginians:
By Cheryl Moore
Every year from Thanksgiving through year-end, my mail fills up with pleas from various nonprofit organizations — for financial donations, groceries or holiday gifts for low-income families in Arlington.
Nonprofits’ posts on Facebook and Twitter remind me that, despite Arlington’s wealth, many people still struggle with needs like food, housing, education and employment.
“We have over 28,000 people in Arlington living on $35,000 for a family of four,” says Anita Friedman, director of Arlington County’s Department of Human Services.
While our holiday donations help in the short-term, just throwing money at a problem isn’t necessarily a progressive solution. To reduce disparity, we need to fundamentally tackle the root causes that are keeping some in our community from achieving stability and success.
Making systemic change supports employment, education and health care–some of the tools needed as a springboard to self-sufficiency. Here are just a few examples.
- Building a better future for Arlington residents living on the edge is the goal of the Bridges Out of Poverty Leaders in Arlington’s nonprofit sector, Arlington County staff, and the Arlington Community Foundation are collaborating on lifting families out of poverty by coordinating resources in health, mental health, employment, child care, education, housing and social capital. This goes beyond just day-to-day stabilization.
- La Cocina VA is a culinary training program for un-employed and under-employed immigrants. Students graduate with the practical skills and English-language proficiency that help them secure higher-paying jobs in the food service industry.
- Just Neighbors provides legal services that enable low-income immigrants and refugees to gain the legal status they need to work, so that they can support themselves and become self-sustaining members of their communities.
- R.E.A.D. (Read Early and Daily) offers families in need a free book a month for each child between birth and five years old. They also promote family literacy by sponsoring family reading playgroups.
- APAH (Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing) is partnering with Edu-Futuro to prepare high school students for college and careers through skill-building in writing and public speaking.
- Arlington Free Clinic‘s “Filling the Gap Campaign” aims to triple the number of low-income clients who receive dental care. Because many diseases that start in the mouth can cause life-threatening illness and chronic conditions, proper dental care has an enormous effect on health and well-being.
“Change is happening, but it takes time,” said Arlington County’s Friedman. “Coalitions of nonprofits such as Bridges out of Poverty have been bringing the voice of the poor to the forefront so that our approaches to helping people are informed by their day-to-day realities.”
Each of us can also help promote systemic change. Consider first steps such as:
- If your employer has an ongoing relationship with a local nonprofit, ask what can be done in addition to hands-on, practical assistance. Your company may be able to offer help with strategic planning or other ways to address root causes of a problem.
- Urge your elected officials to make job training and education that support low-income individuals a priority in the County budget and hold them accountable.
- Support legislative efforts that enable jurisdictions like Arlington to set a minimum wage higher than the $7.25 per hour mandated by the federal government. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology living wage calculator, the annual income it takes to raise three children in a household with two working adults in Arlington is over $92,000. You can also support Sen. Barbara Favola’s (D-31) bill to provide paid sick leave for the 1.2 million Virginians — mostly low-income–who do not receive it.
It’s still important to support Arlington’s vulnerable residents by contributing to safety-net programs. As Charlie Meng, director of the Arlington County Food Assistance Center said “During the month of December, we must raise over 25% of our annual goal.”
Yet we also need to focus much harder on affecting long-term transformation. Creating a more hospitable and equitable environment for everyone who lives here requires getting behind strategies that offer a springboard to a better future.
Cheryl Moore is an active community member and volunteer who has lived in Arlington since 1983.
Editor’s note: A few Progressive Voice columns, including this one, will be publishing outside of the new biweekly schedule, following our column changes earlier this fall.
By Colleen Pickford
If you are an Arlington parent, you likely have heard that Arlington Public Schools staff presented two proposals in November for moving various elementary neighborhood and option programs in advance of a new elementary school opening at the Reed site in 2021.
These proposals are big, bold, and complex, and last week the process was narrowed down to Proposal 1.
The elementary school population in Arlington continues to grow faster than we can fund buildings — our land and funding are limited. In order to manage elementary school enrollment over the next 10 years, we must take a hard look at all our school buildings and how we are using them and consider program moves and boundary changes as part of a plan for making full use of existing space.
Community response to these proposals has been swift. Letters are being circulated, coalitions are being built, t-shirts are being printed and parents are insisting the process is flawed and must be halted for a year until more data or other solutions are provided to allay all concerns. Shouting from audience members and interrupting staff comments have recently disrupted public engagement meetings on the proposals, drawing media coverage from a local television station. For those who are concerned, I implore you to partner in this process rather than immediately work against it.
I understand the anxiety that comes with these changes. My children’s school, Oakridge Elementary, was part of the boundary process last year that resulted in nearly 200 of our students moving to Hoffman-Boston this year. The boundary change was the culmination of a five-year process where our community sought relief from overcrowding — but more time to discuss boundary changes didn’t make the conversation with our neighbors any easier. Even with triple-booked PE classes and so many classes our specialist teachers could barely rotate through the school, no one wanted to move.
I can tell you from living through this process that there are no perfect data and no perfect solutions. But the challenges before our school system grow with each newly enrolled student. Delaying those decisions now doesn’t make that any easier and it doesn’t change the fact that some students are going to have to move.
By Carmen Romero
As a 20+ year resident of Arlington and an affordable housing developer, I am often asked by neighbors, “What does affordable housing mean?” often followed by, “How can we help?”
In stark terms, here’s an example of the “affordable”* housing situation. The average apartment rent in Arlington in 2018 was $1,918 per month.* Yet a minimum-wage working family would need to work 154 hours a week to rent a one-bedroom apartment in Arlington.
Many people in the private and public sectors are putting in the hard work to combat this situation. Unfortunately, we are falling short on own stated community goals of seeing 17% of our housing stock be affordable* by 2040. As of Fiscal Year 2018, we were closer to only 8.8% (or 10,200 units) of our 115,400 housing units being affordable.
So, to the question: how can “we” help? Arlington has the benefit of excellent planning, transportation, a supportive community, and economic prosperity that comes with being one of the nation’s top technology economies. If we harness innovation and hold ourselves accountable, we can pull the pieces together to make it happen.
What do bold steps and innovation look like?
- Approving a one-time bond issue. Bold financial commitments from the local and state level could help capitalize new solutions. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity with the Amazon HQ2 economic engine to create new tools to promote large-scale preservation and new construction. Arlington could choose to fully capitalize our affordable housing plan through a one-time bond issuance supported by some of the economic growth anticipated from the arrival of HQ2. Local government could also reduce the development and operating costs for building affordable homes, including expediting zoning and permitting approvals, reducing real estate property taxes, and streamlining of site plan conditions.
- Rethinking Arlington’s zoning and land use rules. This could help ensure we have the flexibility to create more housing at all levels, but especially for those for whom the rent burden is most acute. Because Arlington is land-scarce, this has often meant more density and height, especially near transit. Given our land scarcity, it is critical to promote non-profit partnerships, such as the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing’s (APAH) partnership with the American Legion Post 139 in Virginia Square to develop affordable housing with a preference for veterans.
- Connecting more low-income and diverse people to our region’s technology and entrepreneurship economy pipeline. This summer, APAH began brainstorming with several local universities and a large technology partner around a vision to create a “resident impact incubator” with onsite technology classes and instructors/mentorships for young children through senior learners. This envisioned the use of technology as a bridge for low-income residents, instead of a divide. APAH recently opened Gilliam Place, an affordable housing development with 173 homes collocated with a ground-floor home for Arlington Presbyterian Church and a café and business incubator with La Cocina, the Zero-Barriers training and entrepreneurship center.
By Karen Darner
Leadership in public service makes a difference. I want to share a true story of the School Board appointments made by the Arlington County Board in 1976. (This was before we returned, in 1994, to electing School Board members.) And then I want to reflect on some challenges facing our leaders today.
In 1976, there were two School Board vacancies to be filled. I was the new president of the educators in the Arlington Education Association, and sent each candidate a questionnaire so a candidate endorsement might be possible.
There were many candidates in this race. I had heard many good things about one candidate, Mary Margaret Whipple. Another candidate was Tom DeScisciolo, father of a Washington-Lee senior. Mr. DeScisciolo worked for the National Labor Relations Board in DC. As Mr. DeScisciolo and I talked one day, I was impressed by his interest in many questions and how we, as educators, developed our own positions on issues. I was a novice on the workings of our collective bargaining agreement with the School Board, but knew it was the cornerstone to discussion and compromise among our members, and eventually with the School Board for our contract.
AEA’s political arm reviewed all candidates’ answers and reached an endorsement decision for the County Board to appoint Mrs. Whipple and Mr. DeScisciolo. When I arrived at the County Board meeting for the decision, I slipped into a seat next to Mr. DeScisciolo and his daughter. He then explained to me how he came to apply to become a School Board member.
Earlier, he had been helping his daughter research the process for becoming a School Board member for a report of one of her classes. He himself became interested in serving, and felt he had the motivation to become a valued member. And now it came to be: The County Board appointed him and Mrs. Whipple to the Arlington School Board.
I am aware of the extraordinary value of Mary Margaret Whipple’s tenure on the School Board, County Board, and eventually the Virginia State Senate on behalf of Arlington and Virginia residents. Her knowledge and integrity are incomparable, and we are very fortunate.
Tom DeScisciolo’s leadership is less well known, but he stood up for what was right. In January 1977, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the collective bargaining process practiced in Arlington by the County Board and by the School Board was unconstitutional, and was to end. Arlington’s superintendent at the time saw this as an opportunity to break the contract with the educators, and said so publicly.
This is where Tom DeScisciolo’s presence became most valuable. He reminded the Board and Superintendent about collective bargaining, and that all parties had negotiated our contract “in good faith.” I will never forget his passionate message–“‘good faith’ means it is your word.” The School Board voted to reaffirm its contract with its employees.
Sometime afterward, Tom DeScisiolo was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He had completed about 18 months of a 4-year term, yet his Board presence was a gift of “the right person at the right time.”
Today we still need leaders who can make wise decisions–benefitting the whole county–while negotiating the thicket of competing demands. (As a former state legislator, believe me I do understand how hard this is.) We need leaders who can look long-term and not get stuck on what works for just today, or on who yells or lobbies the loudest. I say all this not as a reflection on any particular elected official, but more to guide us all going forward. Leadership in public service makes a difference. And the right kind of leaders especially matters.
Karen Darner served her community as a speech therapist in the Arlington Public Schools for over 35 years and represented part of Arlington in the Virginia General Assembly for 14 years. She loves it here.
Editor’s note: A few Progressive Voice columns will be publishing outside of the new biweekly schedule, following our column changes earlier this fall.