Dorothy Jaeckle speaks at a community budget meeting at Bensley Community Center. (Photo courtesy Chesterfield County)
Before taking a seat on the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors 10 years ago, Dorothy Jaeckle was a stay-at-home mom who gained a reputation for community involvement through leadership roles in education and serving on the Chesterfield Committee on the Future.
Elected in January to her second term as board chairwoman (a position she last held in 2013), Jaeckle drew criticism for recent comments she made about the rising number of English learners at county schools. She also took issue with a Richmond Times-Dispatch report on suburban poverty growth, calling the figures “not useful enough” and saying that rather than simply subsidizing people, “we need to work on setting them on a path to freedom.”
Jaeckle cites priorities for 2017 as keeping Chesterfield’s police department fully staffed, balancing the needs of disparate communities and reevaluating some policies in light of two relatively new board members and a new county administrator. (Joseph P. Casey, a former Henrico County deputy county manager, stepped into the job in July, taking over from James J. L. “Jay” Stegmaier, who held it for a decade and had worked in Chesterfield government since 1979.) She also wants to move forward with redevelopment of areas such as the Jefferson Davis Highway corridor.
Our initial interview with Jaeckle took place in early February, before her comments about immigrants and poverty made headlines. On March 27, after the April issue of Richmond magazine went to press, she discussed those topics during a second interview. Here are her responses to questions from both interviews, edited for length and clarity.
Richmond magazine: Could you elaborate on your comments from the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors budget meeting regarding not wanting to use funds to reduce ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) class sizes?
Jaeckle: I’ll give you some background on what prompted the discussion. Over the past several years, the Board of Supervisors and School Board … we worked together to restore some of the budget cuts made during the recession. We spoke with the teachers, principals and parents, and these were the cuts that everybody agreed were negatively impacting the classroom. Increased class sizes and loss of electives pretty clearly rose to the top, so we worked with them to bring those electives back and reduce the class sizes. ... So, what happened was, they said at the budget hearing that they were going to use 28 positions for ESL teachers instead of reducing the pupil-teacher ratio and getting back the electives. So I thought that was not what we agreed to. However, I did say I certainly understand why you need the ESL teachers, and that’s when I made the comment that the teacher had said to me, and [it] has been so blown out of context. All she said was on the day when non-English speaking students were held home, she couldn’t believe how much easier it was to teach without having that language barrier. I mean, I think that’s a valid statement for a teacher to make. It is unbelievable the way she’s been accused, and thank goodness they don’t know her name, because other teachers were telling us the same thing. They were accused of not wanting people of a different color or culture in their classrooms. It’s bizarre. I mean, it has nothing to do with color or culture. It has to do with the ability to communicate.
RM: In a recent interview, you commented on the homeless student population, saying you thought students whose parents could not provide a home for them should be placed in foster care temporarily. Do you have any additional comments about that?
Jaeckle: What I was talking about was … are you familiar with the [McKinney-Vento] Act? It is a federal act that if a child moves from place to place, the school has to provide transportation to bring them to their home school even if they move throughout the region for a year. I’m really sorry I used the [term] pet peeve because the pet peeve was not with the families. It was with the design of the system. You know, it seems like it would make more sense to me that instead of sending a bus all over the region picking up students because their families were continually moving to try and get those families settled in place, even if it meant temporarily putting their children in foster care while you help them get stabilized.
RM: What was your objection to the Richmond Times-Dispatch article that detailed suburban poverty growth outpacing the city’s rate?
Jaeckle: Well, there were a couple of things with that. First [the reporter] called to find a comment, and I said, "Well, I haven’t even seen the report," so she sent me the report. And I told her, "If you want to know the truth, when I look at these reports, these maps aren’t even detailed enough to where I can see the street names." I just think that there are so many different reasons for poverty. First of all, I thought the headline should have been "Poverty Increases Across Region" in spite of all the programs we’ve tried to reduce poverty. I mean, that’s the real headline to me. If you look, everybody’s poverty increased. Ours did increase more. I can’t remember how much more, but I would be a lot more worried if I was Richmond than Chesterfield when you look at the numbers.
RM: You’ve lived in Chesterfield since 1980. What were you doing before beginning your time on the board?
Jaeckle: Well, my first child was born in 1980, and I worked for the first year that she was born. I had always looked forward to having children and staying home with children. So I felt like I was wishing away the time. I couldn’t wait until the end of the day. I couldn’t wait until the weekend. I said, "You know, we’re just going to try and live on one income. If we can’t, then I’ll just go back to work." So I ended up having four children. I was just a very involved volunteer. I held some small part-time jobs, but overall I really spent the time volunteering at different organizations.
RM: Could you talk about what you did during your 12-year tenure on the Chesterfield Committee on the Future?
Jaeckle: As a citizen, we really only tend to view life around us and judge any kind of government decisions as to how they affect our day-to-day life. The Committee on the Future really opened my eyes to all the decisions that had to be made and the complexity of the county. When I was on the Committee on the Future, we did several reports. One was about economic development. One was on youth development. One was on the aging population. But really my favorite one was neighborhood revitalization. That was back in the '90s when we were really recognizing that we had aging neighborhoods. We kept building neighborhoods, and we weren’t really paying attention to the older neighborhoods. And I do think that report was what turned the county to start thinking about the older neighborhoods.
RM: What would you say were your proudest achievements on the board during your time as chairwoman in 2013?
Jaeckle: I was really proud, as a board, that we all worked together and put that bond referendum out. The majority of that referendum was for renovating and rebuilding older schools, which was unprecedented, and it got full county support.
RM: What do you see as being the board’s biggest challenge in 2017?
Jaeckle: Going back, if you look at the [years] 2008, ’09, ’10, ’11, when our assessments were dropping, so therefore our revenues were dropping, you’d clearly say for that next year the biggest problem and your biggest challenge was going to be making your budget. We’ve been on an upswing for a couple of years, so I wouldn’t say it’s the challenge that we had back in those days. So it’s ongoing challenges like how do we keep our older neighborhoods up? How do we [serve] the western end of the county and still value the eastern end? We’ve had difficulty keeping our police force. How are we going to come up with a type of recruitment or some way to figure out how to get more applications for our police department? We have a new county administrator and a few new board members, and [we're] trying to look at changing some policies and procedures with the overall goal of improving government and the way we operate.
RM: What differences have you seen in the county’s management under new County Administrator Joseph Casey after former administrator Jay Stegmaier’s retirement last summer?
Jaeckle: I think it’s interesting watching somebody that comes from another organization, outside the organization, and the way they look at the way things are run compared to somebody who you could say, in a sense, grew up with the organization. So I would say Joe Casey looks at things that he’s not used to [seeing] being done the way they’re being done. He’ll say, "Well, why are you doing it that way?" and sometimes he decides that Chesterfield does it better and sometimes he can make the case for why he thinks there’s a better way.
RM: Concerning your job as chairwoman, what keeps you awake at night?
Jaeckle: I guess the thing that consistently keeps you awake is [wondering] did you make the right decision? Are there going to be unintended consequences? If you approve a zoning case and some people were for it and some were against it, in 10 years are you going to find out the people against it were right and you shouldn’t have approved that? Road widening or anything like that that encroaches on people’s lives.
RM: What are you most optimistic about for your tenure?
Jaeckle: Chesterfield really has a great reputation as being very community-oriented. Our strength is our citizens are so engaged and really care passionately about Chesterfield. We have a great location. I think we have a lot of opportunity. We’re working on our economic development, so we’re creating more jobs. I’m really looking forward to the redevelopment of the Jefferson Davis corridor.