Yesterday, we began our three part interview with Chesterfield County School Board member Omarh Rajah, the first teacher elected from that county's Motoaca District, and the first African-American ever elected to that school board. An unabashed conservative in his first run for public office, he defeated the incumbent chairman in a year that saw many conservatives lose in Virginia. The following is part two. We will conclude the interview tomorrow. familyfoundation.org: Do you think Virginia should teach abstinence education and why? Was it a mistake for Governor Tim Kaine to eliminate the funding for it last year?
Omarh Rajah: Yes, I believe our public schools should teach abstinence, and it was definitely a mistake for the Governor to eliminate that funding last year.
familyfoundation.org: What is the biggest problem facing Virginia public education?
Omarh Rajah: I think the biggest issue facing public education in Virginia is the issue I ran my campaign on last year — we need to promote morals, values, and principles in our school system. Some people hear that message and like to say that's it's some sort of extremist or exclusionary message, but that's just flat-out wrong. All it means is that our school system should reflect and reinforce the values, such as hard work, honesty, patriotism, and treating others the way you would like to be treated, that parents teach to their children. I think the curriculum we're implementing in Chesterfield, an elective course on comparative religions, is a good step in that direction. In addition to educating our students about the historical foundations of different religions, I also believe it will give students a real chance to reflect on who they are and what they believe, and I believe an elective Bible Study course would accomplish the same thing. It wouldn't be "preaching" to students, but it would be explaining how the Bible was written, different interpretations of what it means, and how those principles can be applied to today's world. I believe that kind of reflection is a good thing rather than a bad thing.
Specifically related to Chesterfield, we're always faced with the huge challenge of making sure our infrastructure needs (in the case of the School Board, our school system) keep up with the pace of residential development in the county. I believe, working together, our new Board of Supervisors and School Board have taken real positive steps in that direction. For example, the Board of Supervisors is currently considering allowing proposed residential developments to be turned down if they would put schools too far over capacity. Some people may disagree with me, but I think that's a wonderful step in the right direction.
familyfoundation.org: What are some of the new ideas you are working on in Chesterfield County that you think would be good reforms for other school systems to take a look at?
Omarh Rajah: In Chesterfield, we recently approved an elective course in comparative religions, and we're currently working on implementing an elective Bible study curriculum within the next couple of years. In terms of issues specifically related to Chesterfield County, I'm glad I was able, with the help of my fellow Board members, to succeed in getting a resolution passed to help ease overcrowding by turning a current high school into a middle school once a replacement high school is finished being built, and I was able to, for the first time, implement a process for putting up a sign in front of Matoaca High School, which had not had one previously.
familyfoundation.org: Do you think enough money gets to the classroom? Many think school systems spend too much money in the central office. Some legislators support the "65% Solution" which other states have had great success with. It mandates that 65 percent of all school funding go toward classroom needs. Is this a good reform?
Omarh Rajah: Although money is not the most important factor in developing a quality school system, I do believe it's true that not enough money makes it directly to the classroom, and a huge part of the reason for that is the large amount of money that's spent on administrative costs. To that end, I believe the 65% solution is a good idea. That's a state level issue rather than a county level issue, but it's an issue I support. I think another potentially good idea is to consider what a number of conservative state legislators are proposing, a performance audit of the Virginia Department of Transportation, in our school systems, to help us identify potential areas of wasteful or duplicative spending that can be reduced or eliminated. We had a curriculum management audit in Chesterfield for that purpose, and I think it would be a good idea to do that on a regular basis.