2014-01-01 / Front Page

School Board candidates reach out

Bob Olsen challenges Gary Powers to debate
By Jim McConnell

Olsen Olsen The filing deadline to run for the Midlothian District seat on the county’s School Board isn’t until Jan. 21, but neither of the current candidates want to wait that long to start discussing the issues with prospective voters.

Bob Olsen, a longtime Chesterfield resident and self-described “rabble-rouser,” already has contacted PTA presidents at three county schools and asked their organizations to consider hosting debates in advance of Midlothian’s March 18 special election.

Olsen noted last week that he reached out to people affiliated with Bettie Weaver, Watkins and Crestwood elementary schools because those schools serve children in different areas of the diverse, geographically far-flung Midlothian District.

“I want people to have the opportunity to see all of the candidates, ask us questions and hear what our views are on a variety of subjects,” Olsen said. “Then they can have an informed opinion of who the right candidate will be.”

Powers Powers Olsen acknowledged it’s unusual for a School Board candidate to call for a debate. Still, he considers it especially necessary because neither he nor fellow first-time candidate Gary Powers have long records of government service for voters to consider.

“I’m just trying to get as much information as possible out there,” he added. “That would be to the benefit of all citizens in Midlothian because we’re going to be representing their views.”

Powers called it “premature” to contact any organization about hosting a candidate forum until after the Jan. 21 filing deadline, when the county registrar will identify candidates who have met the qualifications to be placed on the ballot.

“There is a lot of talk about possible candidates, so until the candidates are confirmed, I am focusing my efforts on community outreach,” Powers said.

In addition to talking with parents, students and teachers, Powers noted that he already has spoken with the state secretary of education, the president of the County Council of PTAs and the president of the Chesterfield Education Association.

He also had meetings scheduled last week with Jim Schroeder, named in November to serve as Midlothian’s interim School Board representative, and Michel Zajur, founder and president of the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“I continue to receive a lot of positive feedback and encouragement,” Powers said.

With 20 days left before the filing deadline, it remains to be seen whether anyone else intends to enter the race to fill Midlothian’s seat on the School Board – a vacancy created when health concerns forced Patty Carpenter to step aside in October.

The remaining four board members selected Schroeder to fill in until the special election. Schroeder, a retired dentist who represented Midlothian on the School Board for 13 years, has pledged not to run in March.

According to county registrar Larry Haake, candidates can begin gathering signatures from Midlothian residents on Jan. 1. They’re required to submit at least 125 valid signatures by the filing deadline in order to have their names on the ballot for the special election.

Local attorney Sam Kaufman, who has backing from two members of the School Board and the business community, said last month that he was “up in the air” about whether he could put together an effective campaign in just three months.

Kaufman didn’t return a call requesting comment for this story by press time.

Olsen, a vocal critic of local developers’ efforts to eliminate the county’s cash proffer system, said he wouldn’t be surprised if developers got together and convinced someone to run against him.

Cash proffers are fees developers pay on new homes to offset the impact of additional residents on public infrastructure. The revenue helps defray the cost of capital projects such as schools, roads, libraries, fire stations and parks.

Noting that nearly half of Chesterfield’s standard $18,966 per-unit cash proffer goes to the county’s school system, Olsen insisted he won’t stop talking to voters about the importance of keeping the proffer system intact.

“When proffers are cut, it hurts schools,” he said. “I plan to speak about it at every opportunity.”

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