Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Loudoun BOS - Support the Loudoun County School Budget

Attending the School Board meeting last night in Ashburn was truly an educational experience in itself. Notwithstanding the Tango-related Superintendent address, public comments, and quite eloquent Board member remarks regarding this issue, the meeting was a very large and colorful window into a broad and serious spectrum of topics, issues, events and successes of the Loudoun County Public Schools system. Throw in some quotes from Thomas Jefferson, Mark Twain, a few public service medals for students, requests for "challenging conditions" driving courses, Arabic language and CDL training, some concerns regarding the Monroe Academy of Science's very narrow curriculum (ostensibly in favour of the Biology-related preferences of its sponsoring entity, HHMI) and lack of AP courses - you've got an event much more intellectual and socially-redeeming to attend than watching the competing "American Idols" on TV. We highly recommend ALL parents attend a School Board meeting or two - free coffee, to boot.

The prevailing undercurrent, however, throughout the whole meeting, was a bit of timely marketing to the public regarding the intentions of the Loudoun County budgeteers to cut the requested School budget and CIP. Even the penguins were played as "trumping" the limited and valuable time and attention available for discussing and promoting the School budget.

Two items in particular stood out. First, a very valid point was made about the need for Loudoun County to revisit and revise the Land Use Exceptions policies. Drastically lower taxes for large landowners evidently results in over $200 Million worth of taxes not collected by the County, according to one School Board member. Obviously these exceptions are not all unwarranted - but there are certainly many pockets of benefit without just or fully-transparent cause. We also would like to raise (and shear) a few sheep in our backyard to escape property taxes, but it's not favored by our HOA.

Second, the CIP cutbacks are penny-wise and pound-foolish, and will, for example, deny nearly a thousand students in the Dulles South area reasonable High School accommodations. This will lead to the downward, destructive community spiral of overcrowding, more traffic, more accidents, more students per class, less instruction, less desirable working conditions for teachers and ultimately less educated students with higher numbers of community infractions and social issues.

Certainly there's lots of complaining around the blogosphere about the "gilded" School Board accommodations, about non-parents having to pay for seemingly extravagant enrichment activities, and about seemingly "rich" parents who should kick in extra for their own kids. But, from our experience living in this county, attending BOS and School Board meetings, knowing many parents and children, having children in both private and public schools for various reasons, having many friends with children in Arlington, Prince William Fairfax, Montgomery and various NJ counties (for comparison), and witnessing many more opportunities for rational, fiscal responsibility on the part of the BOS vs. the School Board - we acknowledge the School budget must be retained intact, as proposed.

Stevens Miller - support the School budget. Especially for this fastest-growing, in terms of both community and business, area of the county in Dulles South.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Loudoun Rewards - a New Discount Card for Local Businesses

Have you seen it? Loudoun consumers in growing numbers are using their new "Loudoun Rewards" discount savings card at area merchants for great discounts on local products and services. Loudoun Rewards began in January of 2006 in Leesburg, VA, and has been delivering savings club memberships to Loudoun County residents since.

Their mission is to provide great discounts to residents, while providing low cost advertising opportunities to small and medium sized Loudoun County businesses. Their innovative approach also provides local charities and groups with an alternative source of funding.

This is a stylish and smart way of spending using the "One Card" and accompanying discount guidebook - which is published annually with partner merchants being added on an ongoing basis.

Check it out...first of its kind in this area.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Silent Auction Fundraiser, Wed. 3/26, for Shelly Scheyder, South Riding Little River Elementary School Teacher

You are invited….

Silent Auction / Music / Dessert Event

to benefit Shelly Scheyder, a beloved Little River teacher and South Riding resident

Wednesday, March 26th, 7:00 – 9:00 PM, Freedom High School Cafeteria


Music for the evening provided by P.O.D. Squad DJ Service

For more information, go to beginning Friday, February 22, 2008 or email

Organizers: Julie Ciardiello, Karen Aspinwall, Colleen Borklund, Tess Palao, & Melanie Roukis

Shelly Scheyder, a beloved and devoted second grade teacher at Little River Elementary and South Riding resident, is ill and has been unable to work since October. Despite undergoing a battery of tests ordered by several specialists, none of them has yet been able to diagnose her. Shelly has taught and lived in our community for almost 10 years, and along with her husband Mark, unselfishly devoted some time to missionary work while raising three wonderful children. Shelly and her family now need your help. We would like to raise funds to help defray the cost of her mounting medical bills and seek further diagnosis and possible treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. To help make the auction and dessert event a success, we need donations from local families and businesses.

Here’s how you can help:

- Pass this on to friends, neighbors, family, etc.

- Donate goods or services for the auction; email with details about your donation including donor name, item description, and value.

- Want to help but don’t own a business? Create your own auction item. You can make dinner to be delivered to the highest bidder or donate a themed basket that your family or neighbors put together. Donate gift cards or gift certificates to lessons, such as knitting, dance, or tae kwon do; or to local restaurants, businesses, or shops.

- Donate a monetary gift the night of the event, to go directly to the family’s needs or donate to an account set up specifically for this purpose ( at

- Donate items or towards items for the dessert event (desserts, napkins, plates, water, etc. (contact Colleen Borklund at

- Volunteer for event preparation and/or at the night of the event (contact Julie Ciardiello

- Come, bid and have fun!

Check out the website dedicated to this event, including items for bid beginning Friday, February 22, 2008 at

Email the description and value of your contribution to so it can be listed on the website.

Items should be dropped off by March 10th, 2008 (contact Melanie Roukis at

Items that are donated after the deadline are welcome, but with no guarantee your name and contribution will be published in the online listing prior to the auction.

All proceeds will go directly to the Scheyder Family Fund.

Any questions? Email


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Petition to Retain the Existing Arcola Community Center

The new Dulles South Multi-Purpose Center in South Riding is evidently not large enough to accommodate all the activities previously being held in the existing Arcola Community Center, including daycare, senior programs, etc...there's now a petition to the Loudoun BOS to keep the Arcola Community Center open, as mentioned by this letter to parents -

"Dear parents:

I apologize for sending another message if you have already signed the petition to retain an Arcola Community Center. Thank you for your support. This is just a reminder for those of you who have not signed to please visit and sign before February 19th when the Arcola Community Center Advisory Board will present the petition to the Board of Supervisors. We hope to get 500 signatures and have about 400 right now. All adult members of the household can sign. Feel free to e-mail the advisory board at with any questions. Please consider passing this petition link on to interested neighbors and friends. Thank you!

Laura TeKrony
Arcola Community Center Advisory Board President "


Friday, February 15, 2008

A new kind of Loudoun sausage being created....

Some observations just in regarding yesterday's joint Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and School Board Committee's definitely a new kind of Loudoun sausage being made in the county school board administration building. By the way, visit this very impressive building - a really well-done horse sculpture right in the front hallway, with small paintings of all the schools within their school clusters, along with a number of historical artifact displays.

This committee (Sally Kurtz - Chair, Tom Reed - Vice Chair) met with representation from the BOS (Kurtz, Burton, Buckly absent), the School Board (Reed, Godfrey, Stevens, with Dupree in attendance), a guest representative, John Wood, Vice-Chair of Loudoun's Economic Development Commission, Deputy Schools Superintendent Ed Waterhouse, and Ari Sky, Loudoun County Budget Manager.

The meeting kicked off with a Tom Reed replaying the "Shift Happens" video detailing challenges of education in this new century. Burton, always the pragmatic skeptic (he admitted being skeptical of the whole committee idea, but willing to get engaged), wondered what the point of it was...this evolved into a discussion of one of the goals of the committee, to find ways to collaborate on making sure children were educated per 21st century requirements. John Wood was very supportive of this discussion, adding that Loudoun business leaders are most concerned in the area of education with:

- the global threat on US business leadership, especially from China
- making sure that technology is viewed only as a necessary tool, not an outcome (though must be available as needed)
- the consistent concern that kids aren't getting strong enough education in math and science, plus learning the "softer" skills dealing with communication, presenting, etc...things not tested by the SOLs.
- reigning in capital development costs
- adequate and competitive teacher's pay
- measurable outcomes vs. outputs in educational performance - for example, recent accomplishments given of "17 national merit scholars" from Loudoun; "is this a good outcome"?

One interesting bit of news concerned the recent "Technology Resource Teacher Share Fair", evidently held recently for teachers to share information about how they're using technology to help in the classrooms...we'd certainly like to see more of this, and perhaps there's a way for the business community to participate, and more public exposure and input solicitation for this kind of thing.

Another interesting point evidently raised at the last meeting by Ms. Buckley, dealt with examining possible overlaps in spending and activity between the Boards, with respect to administrative and technical support - i.e. perhaps overlapping organization functions could be in some way consolidated. We look forward to hearing more on this.

Otherwise, the meeting served the nascent purposes of its intentions, to try and find ways to get the very different BOS and School Board cultures to collaborate earlier and more often, before the annual periods of conflict seemingly inevitable of the budget cycle. Additionally, with EDC representation, the business community seems to now have another avenue of input into the education strategies of the County, coordinate with the overal county budgeting and spending decisions.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Economic downturn's effect on smaller Northern Virginia, Fairfax and Loudoun Businesses

After speaking recently with a Bank Branch Manager about the effects of the current economy's downturn on her business (she was actually experiencing a sharp uptick in new small, home-based business accounts), we decided to check in with some other Northern Virginia, Loudoun County and Fairfax businesses for their insight - as a bit of a barometer reflecting and perhaps forecasting many of our own family and business financial and spending decisions to come this Spring.

We asked:

1 - Is the economic downturn affecting your Northern Virginia Business?
2 - Do you see differences between Loudoun and Fairfax County, in terms of customer demand for your services?
3 - Do you see any differences in your customer's spending or participation habits, possibly between men and women?

(All quotes are edited for readability)

Khalid Umerani owns the local NOVA Insurance Group in Chantilly, VA, and provides Northern Virginia home insurance, auto insurance, life insurance and business insurance to residents of Chantilly, Ashburn, South Riding, Brambleton, Stone Ridge and other western Fairfax and eastern Loudoun clients. He responds:

"We see many more indicators of family financial stress, including late payments, cancellations, policy reinstatements or re-writes; insurance payments tend to be prioritize lower than critical bills such as mortgage or car payments. The scope of personal insurance coverage is suffering, as well, with some folks reducing or eliminating coverages, or increasing deductibles to lower monthly premiums. This sort of activity tends to increases a family's financial risk profile, and simply adds to the overall negative effects of the economy. On the other hand, life continues, the region is still growing, and the overall demand for flexible, reasonable insurance services in touch with local context is remaining fairly reliable".

Hulya Aksu is owner and publisher of the Modern Loudoun Mom Magazine in Northern Virginia's Loudoun County, Ashburn. Modern Loudoun Mom Magazine is the only "social media magazine" of its kind, offering user-generated website and printed content for modern women and Moms across a variety of topics, including Spa, restaurant and private school reviews, shopping and health information, family events and offline social meetups. She remarks:

"Yes, there has been a slow down in some industries around Northern Virginia. However, advertising is crucial for most businesses and we have remained consistent in our growth. Loudoun in particular is less established, as most businesses are young or new. Having a multi platform media outlet that has a tightly focused target market, such as Modern Mom, is a much needed resource here in Loudoun. Fairfax also lacks in a publications that hyper-locally cater to moms. Fairfax also has a geographical span that cannot be compared to LC. It is an older area with more established social unities. We are approaching both counties differently but are finding many similarities. Moms are moms everywhere. We have both men and women as clients and there are differences. Women tend to also be our readers, believe in a long term commitment and value the savings they receive. Men are more likely to try it once and wait and see. Even if it means they pay more. It is very interesting. Women commit, men try..."

Ingrid Myers, Realtor is one of Northern Virginia's most experienced and long-time Realtors, having offered real estate services in this area for over 20 years. She focuses in Prince William, Fairfax and Loudoun Counties. She says:

"Obviously it's easy to point to the Real Estate industry's slowdown, and know that many realtors, mortgage bankers and all the other Northern Virginia Real Estate service providers are suffering loss of business and revenue. But, it's part of the natural contraction and expansion that affects the overall economy in regular cycles, albeit this time with higher highs and lower lows. Consistent provision of superior customer services, a long track record with a deep referral and partner base, and leverage of critical tools such as Internet Marketing and Social Media Optimization all will help seasoned professionals in this business."

Steve Baker is the owner of National Security Screens, a local provider of alarm screens, window and door security and other home security system services. He adds:

"Like other "nice-to-haves", new home security technology is one of the first services or purchases to be passed over in favor of core family expenses like gas, food, housing. It's like cable TV - many feel it's helpful and enjoyable, but can be done without. On the other hand, economic anxiety tends also to drive up the awareness of security exposure, especially with children - and we actually see some stabilization in sales after an initial downturn. It's a delicate psychological balance - financial vs. physical security. However, our alarm screens are also a means to achieve both security and environmental cost efficiencies - instead of keeping windows closed all the time with air conditioning turned up, especially overnight (fearing a security breach), windows can be left opened for natural cooling in confidence that an alarm will indicate intruders."

We also spoke with Paulo Trindade, of Grow Landscapes, a leading provider of Northern Virginia landscaping, garden design, patios and fencing services located in Falls Church. His feedback:

"The recent slowdown in the local housing market has affected the types of jobs we are doing. With so many homes on the market it is more important than ever to have great looking curb appeal. We are currently doing more front yard renovations just prior to homes being put on the market. Recently a long time client had us landscape her front yard including a more inviting walkway to the front door and all new perennial garden. Not only was the increase in the home's value estimated at ten percent, but the house sold in less than a week.

The homes in Fairfax tend to be older with more mature plantings already in place. We tend to be pulling out old landscaping or designing around large trees and structures already in place. The challenge in Loudoun tends to be the opposite. So many of the homes in Loudoun are new construction there tends to be very little in the way of existing plantings or structure. Often times in Loudoun the goal is to provide privacy from neighbors and create a more established feeling around the home. Both areas provide great opportunities to be creative and really design something that adds to the homeowner's quality of life and a more enjoyable space around their home.

You might expect women to be more interested in flowers and plants while men focus on things like grills and fire pits but this is not necessarily true. Northern Virginia has such a well educated population that we tend to have clients who are equally interested in all aspects of a project. I am very often impressed by how much thought and research clients have put in to a project before even calling us. It often makes for a very collaborative environment that is a pleasure to work in. Right now the group that really seems to be focusing on customizing their environment to their needs and tastes is the baby boom generation. There really seems to be an emphasis on creating spaces that function both as personal refuge and a place for enjoying family and friends."

Our last conversation was with Kirsten Santucci, representing Ashburn's House Doctors, offering handyman services, home repair, renovation and remodeling, residential additions and commercial maintenance services.

"We're definitely affected by the economic downturn, as the cause of this downturn is being attributed mostly to the burst of the housing bubble and we're in the home repairs and improvements industry. However, in business, it's important to take your cues from the market, and then be flexible and adjust your strategy based on those cues. Anything short of that can mean death to a small business. For example, with the sale of new homes having sharply declined, it makes sense to de-emphasize some of our marketing efforts on new homeowners and focus our strategy on other customer segments. Regarding men and women, I don't think it will come as a big surprise that in our experience, the majority of women are the decision-makers when it comes to home repairs or improvements."

Altogether, while the economy and consumer spending is still on a negative trend, well-positioned businesses with solid credentials, unique core offerings and a mixed portfolio of service offerings seem to be weathering the storm for right now.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Looking for a DC-based IT job?

The government IT consulting sector around the Washington, DC metro region is still fairly unencumbered by the economy decline, thankfully, due mostly to the continuing spend plans coming out of Washington. But it's always a good idea to keep your IT or technical resume completely up to date, keep your networking going strong (like using LinkedIn and contributing to professional forums, blogs and social media discussions), monitoring the job market for new skills and opportunities, and "practicing" a little on the side (i.e. getting new certifications, learning new skills, maintaining a "hobby" in another technical discipline).

Here's a link to 6 very current and critical IT consulting positions recently listed with a reputable employer we know - on a site that offers technical resume upkeep as well...

Technical Resumes and DC IT Jobs

Also, if you've got a reasonable technical/Internet-based professional background, and would like to get into the Internet Marketing/SEO business - we're looking for a few good professionals to help grow the business, at KME Internet Marketing (contact us through that site).