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Local: Education

Fairfax school board uses poker chips for meeting

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Local,Education,Lisa Gartner

The Fairfax County School Board has a lot on its plate this year: students struggling at its best high school, a $100 million budget gap and, now, intense pushback from parents over the proposed expansion of the schools' gifted program.

Recently, board members decided to solve at least one of these hot-button issues with poker chips. And they may do it again.

At a work session on the Advanced Academic Program, School Board members were given poker chips connected to varying amounts of speaking time. They could cash their chips in when they wanted to make a point, pool them together, or even trade chips to allow their colleagues more time to talk. But as soon as the two-, four- or six-minute time period ran out, board members -- and even a guest expert invited by the board -- were cut off midsentence.

Ted Velkoff, the at-large board member who led the meeting, said he thought the chips would act as a creative way to ensure all of his colleagues' voices were heard within the three hours allotted. He emphasized that no gambling occurred.

"I think I overestimated the degree to which my colleagues would look at it with a smile, and I think a couple of people reacted more negatively than I expected. Not everything worked," Velkoff admitted.

Most notably, some board members said they felt uncomfortable when guest expert Joyce VanTassel-Baska, professor emerita at the College of William & Mary and founding director of the college's Center for Gifted Education, was abruptly cut off while answering a question.

Elizabeth Schultz, the board's Springfield District representative, called the incident "beyond embarrassing."

Schultz acknowledged the board needed to manage its time more efficiently but said she wanted a solution "with more gravitas."

For her part, VanTassel-Baska said she was not ruffled.

"I have no idea what would have led to the decision to [use the chips]," she said. "Seemingly it would not have happened if they did not have problems in the past."

Velkoff said he was open to using the poker chips again to limit his colleagues' speaking time, but would gather input from the rest of the board first.

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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