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February 12, 2008

Our Most Important Election Isn’t for President

Farrell Keough

On February 5, your plucky columnist put together a forum at the Urbana Volunteer Fire & Rescue Station for the Board of Education candidates seeking to gain a nomination today for a seek on that body. An impressive array of candidates showed up and spent three hours taking on questions and listening to others.

Katie Groth (an incumbent), Richard Johnson, and Richard Mayo were the only three of the 12 not to take on this daunting task.

First, we all need to recognize this elected office is very important! Not only does our Board of Education control well over half our county budget but it also decides on the future of our next generations. Even if you have no children in Frederick County Public Schools, this is still your tax dollars as well as the education of those leaders of the future.

Secondly, we all need to respect the courage and commitment of those throwing themselves into the public spotlight to run for such an under-appreciated position. Very few people even know the candidates for this office, regardless of what this board actually does and is held accountable to accomplish. We all owe a debt of gratitude to these remarkable people in our community who take the time to learn the issues, articulate their vision, and step forward to face the slings and arrows of running for any office these days.

Now, we have to make our choice. At the polls today, we will each have the opportunity to choose three candidates from the slate of 12. Once the votes are counted, the six top vote recipients will move onto the general election. Keep in mind that even if you are not registered with a political party, you can vote in this election for three of these candidates.

My choices are both clear and muddled. The top two are Donna Crook and Tony Chmelik. Mrs. Crook has served for five years on the school board. Her acumen is quite remarkable. She knows the issues and thinks through them in a reasonable and logical manner. She fights for the parents and taxpayers to the point her voice is consistently muffled by the other members of the current board.

Tony Chmelik is new to this arena; but he’s showing remarkably good judgment. While he still needs a bit of guidance, his determination to learn all aspects of these decisions and their intended and unintended consequences is obvious. Partnering with people like Mrs. Cook will make the two a real and powerful force to change and open our education system. Our current Board of Education and the problems in the school system are much, much larger than most of us realize.

My final choice is somewhat up in the air. Ron Bird was tremendously impressive with credentials, focus, and vision. He knows much about the current system and has excellent plans for making it actually work.

Angie Fish is not far behind Mr. Bird. But, her perspective that this current school board is not spending our tax dollars poorly makes one wonder how well she understands the current situation and how fervent she will be to force changes. While she is an ardent supporter of our children, this job also includes dealing with those imbedded people and policies that need serious and huge changes. If these two candidates are nominated, we can look forward to a rigorous discussion of changing the existing situations.

Now, to some of those existing problems. We have all read about the new program to educate children as young as pre-school about “inappropriate touching.” This new program was developed in response to a high school situation of sexual impropriety.

Teaching such things to children this young is not an appropriate response and is one in which parents should be engaged. The unintended consequences of such a program are truly terrifying.

Imagine a father having the police come to his door due to his bathing of his young child and a totally innocent statement by that child taken out of context. We need representatives who will reason through these kinds of policies and recognize them for what they are rather than the pabulum used to promote them.

As to the budget, Donna Crook has consistently promoted and fought for a line item budget. We spend millions of dollars on our education system, yet there is virtually no accountability for that money. No business could possibly get away with such arrogance and irresponsibility. This has been an ongoing issue for some time, but only by a sea change on this board will it ever come to fruition.

Mrs. Crook pointed out a very serious and obvious situation that will help retain teachers. When a new teacher comes into our system, that person is often thrown to the wolves. They will be put in a difficult school and an even more difficult classroom. That is diametrically opposite to how the system should work. It is experience which will provide what these students need. Yet our current system puts in the least practiced of our teachers. No wonder we have such a serious retention problem.

Finally, two issues with respect to the budget and expenditures, keeping in mind this is only a peek into the serious problems surrounding the school board budget.

First, the land purchased in downtown Frederick for the new building. One must question the continued push for this expenditure when our schools are in such disrepair – documents are signed, but there is no concrete in the ground; and it was recently discovered that this land has contaminated soil. That’s right. The price of this building may now increase even further because we will have to foot the bill for remediation.

The second issue involves an annual trip to Ocean City for training and work sessions. We foot the bill for this activity and it is not small in cost. There seems to be no interest in finding an affordable location and venue. One might also question who is footing the bill for the evening drinks and hors’ dourves. It seems the lawyers we now hire to fight parents are happy to serve this crowd. A worrisome connection?

This primary election and the subsequent general election will not force the hand or change this Board of Education; we will need more seats held by those not interested in the status quo. But, it has to start somewhere and we need these kinds of candidates elected to force this change for our children and our taxes.

Yellow Cab
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