Prince William County School Board Chairman Ryan Sawyers is taking Superintendent Steven Walts to court in an effort to gain access to his predecessors’ emails.

Sawyers (At Large) filed a “petition for writ of mandamus” in Prince William County Circuit Court against Walts Tuesday. The petition asks a judge to order Walts to provide the petitioner – Sawyers — “immediate access to school board communications whether from previous boards or the current board.”

Sawyers shared the petition with the Times Tuesday and said he decided to file it because he’s convinced emails sent and received by school board members belong to duly elected members of those offices, and that Walts has no right to withhold them.

“I have the right to educate myself about how things were done in the past by my office,” Sawyers said. “I shouldn’t have to ask the administration to please allow me access to my emails.”

News of the petition took Walts by surprise Tuesday evening. The superintendent said he had not yet been told it was filed and had not yet read it.

Still, Walts explained why he has so far declined Sawyers access to previous school board members’ emails, saying he doesn’t want to disclose private information protected by federal law, including information specific to individual students, or violate the school board’s own recently approved code of ethics.

Earlier this school year, the school board adopted a code of ethics that says, in part, “individual board members have no authority to direct division staff.”

“I’m not arguing whether or not he’s able to look at past emails,” Walts said. “But in their own code of ethics they all agreed that no individual board member can direct division staff… they are a body corporate.”

Walts said he suggested that Sawyers take the matter to the full board for a vote.

“If the board directs me to do what he’s asking, I’m going to comply with the board vote,” Walts said.

Sawyers has so far declined to bring his request to the full board. Interviews with some school board members Tuesday indicate a division of opinion on the issue.

OK, I have to say it–What the hell is the matter with this guy?  I have kept my mouth shut on most matters regarding the school board, or at least since the Godwin name was stripped away.  I don’t like acts done in the middle of the night, behind the people’s backs.

I have seen a whole lot out of Sawyers that I just don’t like, but I have kept my mouth shut, for several reasons.  One, I wanted to give him a chance.  He came out of the starting gate a little rough.  Secondly, I have spent an entire career being at the mercy of the PWC School Board and I wanted to forget about the school system.  I have told at least one blogger friend that I just don’t care any more.

But I do care.  Why is Sawyers suing his own Superintendent?  Why can’t he go by the rules of the PWCSB?  Why must he always attempt to rule by intimidation?  Why must he always be either partisan or self-serving?  I don’t care about his baseball league battles.  I certainly don’t want to pay for them.

Milt Johns and other past chairs are entitled to some modicum of privacy.  Chairman Sawyers is not entitled to someone else’s email except by direct FOIA request.  (I want to start whispering “Rule of Law.”)  The entire board has not voted on the matter.  I expect they will not affirm Sawyers’ request.  A school board is not a body of one.

It seems to me and please correct me if I am wrong–that Chairman Sawyers is using his position to bully others and to rule in an undemocratic way.  I think education should be non-partisan.  The issues aren’t Democratic or Republican issues–they are kid issues.

When school boards do not work in concert towards a common goal, then the kids suffer and the employees suffer.  As a former employee, I don’t want to see kids or employees suffer.  The school board should be paving the way, clearing the road of obstacles, not continually creating them.  That is what Chairman Sawyers appears to be doing, from my perspective–creating obstacles for his own self-serving purposes.

Someone please help me understand what this man is all about.  I see him as a very destructive force to Prince William County Schools and to the taxpayers of Prince William County.  Please someone, prove to me that my assessment of the situation is wrong.



Bristow Beat

Prince William Times

22 Thoughts to “School board chairman takes Superintendent Walts to court”

  1. I wished I could tell you that you were wrong. I really do.

  2. Confused

    You’re not wrong, Moon. As a matter of fact, you’ve been overly gentle in your handling of Sawyers.

    1. @Confused and Joe

      This isn’t very encouraging.

      1. Crystal Clear


        You’re right, Moon, it ISN’T very encouraging. He had a real opportunity to shape the future of Prince William County Schools and has failed. He started his tenure with his vendetta against Mike Bishop, who has the #1 high school in PWC and the #15 high school in all of Virginia. Not a great start. Then it was athletic fields use and his fight with Pete Candland.

        How does that help even one student in Prince William County? It doesn’t. Many of my Democrat friends have told me he started a war with the county committee and tried to do a hostile takeover. Again, not helping any students.

        He violated Roberts Rules and proper decorum by erasing a vote and deleting the minutes of a special meeting. He has bullied members of the school board and the community as well as administration. Now he is suing Dr Walts and running for Congress. He is only concerned about one person, himself.

        We still have trailers, crowded schools, and underpaid teachers. This board is different than the previous, but only because it is more dysfunctional.

      2. Welcome, Crystal Clear. I haven’t seen anything improve, to speak of. If everyone is fighting, then back to the obstacles and road blocks. What a shame.

        School Board folks don’t run as party members. I would like to see no partisanship involved in school board decisions.

  3. Robin Hood

    This situation is more complicated than what has been shared so far. Sawyers replaced Pool the School Milt and half the current board is holding public office for the first time. We can see how that kind of situation is working out at the White House.

    In fairness to them, they have made progress on some things, but the drama has diverted attention away from that and highlighted the negativity. If you want details I have to get back to you because I have to go now.

  4. Disappointed Dem

    I thought a “petition for writ of mandamus” meant that all other avenues have been exhausted. He didn’t FOIA nor did he put it to a vote on the board, which was suggested by Waltz. Every time I think he could make a change for the better he disappoints me. It also disappoints me when I see people defend him simply because he is a Democrat. I don’t care if he does represent my party, his behavior is embarrassing, and it should not be tolerated!

    1. He really has been almost as embarrassing as Trump and Corey.

    2. Robin Hood

      Disappointed Dem,

      I hope you understand that I was attempting to explain the problem more fully rather than defend any individual’s actions. There’s a lot of counterproductive behavior going on.

  5. Robin Hood

    Thanks for your patience. This is a situation where you have so many things to keep track of that it is hard to make sense of it all.

    The progress I mentioned is that teachers and staff have gotten consecutive step increases for the first time in a decade, as well as other measures to prevent turnover and fully staff smaller classes. There’s a plan to catch up on school construction but it’s in negotiations with the supervisors and probably requires a bond issue.

    The good news has been drowned out by the bad news. Most of it comes from the drama that has been described here. Some board members are learning from mistakes that have been made but, sadly, some aren’t for a variety of reasons.

    The Bishop issue is an example. He was running a little league on taxpayer time but he is a public employee and he had a right to due process that involves being told to change and getting a chance to do so. But people chose up sides for political motives and then everyone lawyered up and began trying the case in the media. You can expect to see this pattern repeat in DC at the federal level.

    As stated earlier in somebody’s comment, it is the school system and the students who suffer when partisanship is allowed to trump school governance. That’s what we have now, a massive blame game that distracts from problem solving.

    1. I believe I said that…or close to it.

      I am so tired of hearing about little league I don’t know what to do.

      Apparently there is bad blood between Principal Bishop and Chairman Sawyers. That doesn’t need to play out in the media. In fact, Sawyers should recuse himself because of the conflict of interest. There are 7 other members and a superintendent to address issues if anyone is gold bricking.

      On the other hand, it has been my experience that the lines are blurred between your time/my time when working for the school division. When dealing with administration the lines become even more blurred. There is no set start/stop that I am aware of. I have known plenty of principals who worked well into the night.

      I don’t know either party personally. I think however, that Principal Bishop has some published accomplishments, relating to his employment, that Chairman Sawyers doesn’t have. It’s pretty hard to say that #1 school in the county is falling short.

      I truly hate this school board being divided along political lines. Kids and teachers suffer when politics gets in the way.

      1. Robin Hood


        You have a good point. It was a personnel matter for a public employee and it was supposed to be a confidential matter. I have met both of them and it is not a surprise that they clash. But why do the rest of us have to hear about it over and over again?

    2. Jane Doe

      Robin Hood,

      Teachers have received consecutive step increases several times in the last decade, including several times in the last 5 years.

      1. I am trying to think of times that teachers have received step increases and raises in the same year.

        Do you mind providing me with those years?

        Actually, teachers should receive both a raise and a step increase every year. That’s just how its supposed to work. Unfortunately, other things strapped the cash in PWC. One of those things was prioritizing hunting down undocumented immigrants. Spare no cost for that. County folks also worked a lot of overtime and filled in for unfilled vacancies.

        Meanwhile, I would be interested in seeing those years where all teachers got a step increase.

      2. Robin Hood

        Jane Doe,

        I was a PWCS teacher before I retired and I have to wonder if you have been paying attention. We did because it involved our livelihood. After the recession the BOCS and the school board agreed to alternate step increases and cost of living increases. As a result I retired after 23 years at step 19. This was done when Republicans controlled both boards. Since the Democrats took over the school board teachers have not missed a step increase.

      3. You really need both raise and step to stay on top of things. I think the best raises I got were when Chuck Robb was governor.

        After the recession, the cost of living raises were peanuts. I wasn’t in the system then but I watched. What is significant is that many people got screwed on supplemental retirement as well as VRS contributions. Many folks were near or at retirement. It compounded their issues.

        I got out right before the damn broke.

  6. This has slipped under the radar:

    Prince William School Board extends Walts’ contract to 2021

    Sawyers and Deutsch were the only two school board members to vote against Walts’ contract extension.

    1. I don’t mind Walts’ salary when he is compared to other school CEO’s in the region. I mind it when I look at what a teacher is paid. The reality is, there are a lot more teachers than there are Walts. The county can’t afford to pay them what they are worth.

      I don’t blame Sawyers or any of the other board members for the low teacher pay. I blame the BOCS for that, starting with prioritizing the chasing down of “illegals” over paying their county employees on both sides of the aisle…school and county.

      You know, the nuts and bolts of the situation is that the BOCS rubber stamped development after development, esp. in the western end of the county. Most of those houses were built by itinerant workers, riding the building boom circuit. Lots of them brought their families, creating a shortage of teachers and classrooms. Then the howling began about how many Latinos were in the area. That took the form of “getting rid of the ‘illegals’ and so it began.

      Money which would have gone for classrooms and teachers was diverted to stir up one of the biggest stinks in the history of PWC. Once a jurisdiction gets behind with class sizes and teacher pay, its almost impossible to catch up. If you want to thank someone, thank Corey. There are others but it is he who has been bragging about it recently so start there. He will no where to send the rest of the thanks–I know I sure do.

      I would like to hear who disagrees with my assessment.

  7. Robin Hood

    The plan to undo the damage done by underfunding schools for about a decade will cost $584 million, and it’s being considered by a joint committee of three supervisors and three school board members.

    1. I am glad to hear that. Do you disagree with my assessment of the root of the problem?

      1. Robin Hood


        Corey Stewart? No, the only time I was aware that he tried to fully fund the school budget after the recession was just after the school board voted to have swimming pools at Colgan HS. It smelled like a quid pro quo and he couldn’t deliver when other supervisors balked at the cost of the pools.

        His political people helped the swim teams lobby for the pools and it was such a shamelessly blatant boondoggle that he couldn’t get his own party behind it! But then there’s the matter of Pool the School Milt.

        Under Milt Johns we had a school board that sacrificed students and schools to the low tax ideology of his party. You can add Pete Candland, the Sheriff of Nottingham and the Derecho to the list of villains. They opposed the pools but also fully funding the schools.

        That’s why I have hesitated to pile on to Sawyers. I don’t like the company of hypocrites.

      2. I go back and blame events of about 9-12 years ago. That’s when I think the beds were made.

        I didn’t have a fit over the swimming pool in the school. i figured that you gotta start somewhere. But then again, I really didn’t have a dog in the fight.

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