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On School Board Service: Elizabeth Bradsher

One-term member says she may consider county-level seat

One in a series of interviews with departing Fairfax County School Board members. 

From the late 1980s through about 2004, students in Elizabeth Bradsher's area of Fairfax County were bused across Route 123 to West Springfield and Hayfield high schools, miles from their homes.

"They saw this community that had no voice … was underdeveloped, and they moved them to a school far outside their community," she said. "I didn't want that to happen to any other community again because what happens to one community has a trickle down effect."

The issue was what, in part, sparked Bradsher's run for the Springfield District school board seat in 2007. After working as an advocate in the South County community, the adjustment to elected official wasn't easy, she said.

"No longer was I an advocate for just a particular community," Bradsher said. "When you take that oath of office it's not just for your district but the entire county and that was kind of sobering to realize there were a lot of people counting on you."

One of Bradsher's largest accomplishments was creating the Fairfax County Facilities Planning Advisory Council, a group of 13 county residents who develop and update annually a long-term strategic planning process for FCPS facilities.

The idea was to eliminate the perception of bias in boundary changes.

"There are real, severe reasons that boundary changes are done or not done. And it's not about who has the most money or who can cry the loudest. That's not fair," Bradsher said.

One of the groups that cried the loudest while Bradsher was in office was Save Clifton Elementary School, a group that organized to stop the closing of the "community school" in Bradsher's district.

The elementary school ultimately closed June 30 — a decision Bradsher and several other school board members called difficult.

Resident Jill Hill filed a lawsuit to make public Fairfax County School Board member emails about the decision, arguing the messages leading up to a July 2010 meeting violated the Freedom of Information Act. Fairfax County Circuit Court initially ruled in favor of the school district, but the Virginia Supreme Court decided last week to grant an appeal to Hill.

Hill's group named Bradsher as the ringleader in closing the school, saying FCPS claims of declining enrollment, high maintenance costs and contamination issues were not large enough to shut the school down all together.

Bradsher says the group's singular focus on her was unfair. She says all three were real issues, and, closing the school was the best choice she could have made for the students.

"It was an issue of capital dollars and declining enrollment in an area that was not going to see any growth. [It] had far more needs than typical buildings in our system so we were looking at it from dollars and sense and also what's best for those students," she said. "If I had my druthers I would've built a new school for them. They didn't want a new school. They never wanted a compromise. It was either keep Clifton at all costs no matter what it cost the county or you're going to suffer the consequences, Elizabeth T. Bradsher. And they wanted me to suffer those consequences."

She defends her decision, saying the court found she did nothing wrong. She said simply because she didn't agree with the advocates that assembled to try to save the school doesn't mean she didn't listen to them.

"I listened to every single person during those public hearings. I read every single email, I responded to every single email yet they chose to put my emails on blogs, they FOIA'd my emails and took excerpts out," she said. "The issue was what was the right thing to do for the students and our system and for our taxpayer."

As a result of the Clifton closing, the county was able to use those savings elsewhere, bumping up many of schools in Bradsher's district on the county's renovation queue.

"And that's a good thing," Bradsher said. "When you look at capacity enhancements we did at certain schools our savings were great and those savings went to help the CIP.  It helped thousands and thousands of students including those Clifton students."

Other issues Bradsher thought the board navigated well were the budget and changing the grading scale.

"It was the worst recession since the Depression. We had to make unbelievable decisions and we did so in a way that was methodical and we all gave a little bit," she said. "I thought we handled [the grading issue] well, we did our research, we looked at other school systems … ."

Bradsher says the biggest challenge facing the board is how to educate students in the 21st century, a problem that should also weigh heavily in the selection process for the new superintendent.

"The new superintendent has to be on cutting edge of education because there are so many things coming down the pipe," she said. "We're really on the cusp of a new change and a new environment in education. … I don't want my school system to be experts in PR. I want them to be experts in educating students. That's what it's about."

While one term on the board was enough for Bradsher, who says she felt more effective as an advocate, her days in political office may not be over. She said she still feels the Springfield District needs more of a county-level voice.

"It's one thing for a leader to be elected but it's another thing for a leader to make a difference and to make a difference you have to know about getting along with people and getting votes and I don't see Springfield getting that right now."

Lisa December 30, 2011 at 04:19 PM
Ms. Bradsher is still distorting the facts regarding Clifton Elementary. The above responses are all correct. As an attendant at the PTA meeting Mr. Jones references, I can vouch for the quote he provides. I have the same quote in my notes from that evening. Ms. Bradsher says she would have built a new school for Clifton, yet fails to mention that the site chosen for the new school would have caused severe disruption and traffic concerns for the communities along Union Mill, and therefore she was not willing to disrupt "that community" - not to mention that the site is laden with naturally occuring asbestos, yet the costs to deal with the asbestos during construction of a new school was not included in the price of the new school. The "savings" were imagined, not real. The operational costs of CES were approximately $600K a year, most of that related to staff. Each staff member at CES was relocated to a different school - again, those "savings" were imagined. There were no savings from closing CES. Ms. Bradsher can, and I'm sure she will, continue to distort the facts in order to portray herself as the victim. She has no shame. The BEST decision she EVER made was her decision to not seek re-election. Ms. Bradsher, please do us all a favor and return to your private life, for good.
David Hill January 01, 2012 at 03:24 PM
Once again Bradsher plays the victim so well. This woman never got that it was never about her and the simple fact is she lies to everyone. She lies with such regularity, it appears that she even believes her own lies. Another quick note, the Fairfax Judge did not find in favor of the School Board. What she did find was that the School Board members had BROKEN the law by violating Virginia's FOIA laws. Unfortunately the Judge decided not to do anything about the 100s of FOIA violations. The good news is that after only a 5 minute hearing, The Virginia Supreme Court decided that this case warrants an appeal and is now going to hear the case. When this whole thing started, the vote was suppose to decide if FCPS would keep Clifton Elementary School open and renovate it or close it and build a new school. When the School Board learned about the naturally occurring asbestos at the proposed site and realized it would cost millions of dollars to abate, the School Board took the new school of the table, not the residents of Clifton as Ms. Bradsher would have you believe. Stick a fork in her, she is done. Stu, you can go now as well, your "work" here is done.
Evelyn O January 10, 2012 at 04:22 AM
Liz Bradsher did not perform her job and truthfully represent Clifton Elementary School. She was so divisive, scheming and untruthful to the very community she was supposed to represent. My children, ages 9 and 12 years old, were taken to the school board meetings and really learned how dishonest grown ups can be, especially regarding the water issue. My 12 year old really only like Tina Hone who he thought came across as honest and caring. We all really wish Liz Bradsher would just shut her mouth and go away.
Will Radle January 10, 2012 at 01:12 PM
After telling private citizens to step aside from voicing their concerns in multiple letters to editors, Stu Gibson's defense falls flat. Sadly, Bradsher was elected because of her effective advocacy saying, "They saw this community that had no voice … was underdeveloped, and they moved them to a school far outside their community,". . . "I didn't want that to happen to any other community again because what happens to one community has a trickle down effect." Bradsher's tenure on the School Board will be remembered as a time when we divested from education. In the four years she served we reduced funding, increased students per teacher, and cut the take home pay of teachers and school employees. Here Bradsher still claims water contamination was an issue necessitating the closure of Clifton Elementary School. The water issue was known by School Board members before they voted to be proven false. Ironically, Bradsher still cites it in explaining her vote. We remain curious as to what county-wide office Bradsher is alluding in seeking to serve our community in the future.
Gordon Blvd February 12, 2013 at 04:45 PM
if anyone still reads this, know that at least one Liz Hater here has waken up to reality since those days. Apologies to Ms. Bradsher from me as I was talking trash to you - and I know now that I was WRONG. You took on the wrath of a community when all you were doing was trying to protect the children of those community, and give them the best they could have (which, no matter how charming it is, was NOT a run down old building). Pat on the back to you, Ms Bradsher, wherever you are. Know that at least some of us understand now what a good person you are, and how wrong we were about you, the issues, and the building. Sorry for hating =)

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