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As Long as We Remember...

July 22, 2010

Reshaping the School Board

Adam Avery

I usually save my predictions for March Madness, for I learned long ago that the only guarantees in life are death, taxes and death by taxes. A recent informal and unscientific poll of Frederick County’s candidates for the Board of Education has me reaching deep into my discretionary income pocket to place a wager: Come November, we will enjoy a well qualified and conservative majority on the school board.


It couldn’t come at a better time. The public is up-in-arms over real or perception-is-real transgressions by the current school board. Most notably, the board participated in its version of Pamplona’s annual “running of the bulls” with its own “screwing of the children.”


Parents, students, and taxpayers felt the gorge of Board Member Jean Smith’s horns as she bucked all fiscal responsibility while cramming down our throats the Taj Mahal and other wasteful spending on budget busters that have nothing to do with educating children.


In what are supposed lean times, this board even voted to install technology that automatically turns off lights when rooms are empty. They don’t have faith in the ability of our county employees or children to do this instead.


My interviews with candidates revealed anger at the status quo and a passion to change it. Although answers varied as much as their backgrounds, common themes existed. Candidates have had enough of the out-of-control spending. They have had enough of the arrogance. They have had enough of the bull.


Fourteen candidates responded to the following questions: (1) What will be the BOE’s greatest challenge in the next four years? (2) How are you uniquely qualified to lead? (3) Is $12,500 too little, too much, or just the right amount of funding per child?


All material cited is from both interviews and written responses to my questionnaire.


Sarah McAleavy told me that “over 50% of students at one school and as high as 69% at another made the honor roll. She asked rhetorically, “How can that many children make the honor role when two out of every three graduates need remedial math and/or English when entering college?”


Earl Wahlquist is a federal government employee. He said that he is “not in favor of Maintenance of Effort because it relieves the board and superintendant of responsibility.”


Butch Gross is a business owner. He was direct with his contention that “first and foremost is the budget. Decisions need serious thought without all the emotion.”


Barrie Ciliberti has owned his own private preschool for 18 years and been an administrator and teacher for more than 35 years. He believes that “the greatest challenge for the (school board) is restoring confidence in the board among voters.”


Glenn Dexter responded with a video of Red Skelton recalling his teacher’s explanation of every word in our Pledge of Allegiance.


Roger Smith has vast leadership experience that he describes as an "eclectic background.” He was CEO and president of a startup healthcare practice for 20 years, president of a local Rotary club, and keynote speaker for the Frederick Chamber of Commerce's Leadership Frederick program.


Rob Johnson is one of the more outspoken candidates for any position. He announced: "I don't really give a damn if I offend anyone – I want people to vote.”


Colleen Cusimano spent two years in the Information Technology Department of Frederick County Public Schools. Her detailed stories of waste and the bullying by administrators when trying to point out the waste are shocking and enlightening. I hope to bring some of these to you in a televised interview later this month on and Seniors Talk Radio on August 1.


Aubrey Harbaugh thinks that "they (the school board) have to rebuild their reputation as a group that focuses on educating the children. They have to fix the budget, and I don't mean balance it, I mean start from top to bottom and do a complete overhaul like they would do in a business.”


April Miller is a local optometrist with three children “in the system.” She explained: “I do not believe that solutions to better education have anything to do with throwing more money at the problems."


Omari Patterson was educated in local schools. Both of his parents were teachers. He has been an educator, wrestling coach, cheerleading instructor, and a board member with the Boys and Girls club of Frederick.


Jimmy Reeder is a straight talking and unapologetic conservative. He is greatly concerned about “spending, prioritizing spending and being able to get through the next several years with forecasted shortfalls for 2012 and 2013. My gut tells me that they (administrators) have not adequately prepared the associates for this and they believe that they will get by without being touched. This stands a chance of being a nightmare.”


Brad Young is a business owner and adjunct professor with associates, undergraduate and master’s degrees. He was on the Board of Trustees of Frederick Community College for 15 years.


Yonnas Kefle said: “The greatest challenge in the next four years is the (school board’s) ability to work effectively with the (county commissioners) to make the most of dwindling local education budgets.”


All candidates spoke to the need for the next board to do more with less and support only programs that benefit children. Many candidates spoke to the need for the next board to work with parents, taxpayers, and the county commissioners. No candidate championed the status quo in any shape or form.


Janice Spiegel and Jean Smith did not respond to my inquiry.


Jean Smith’s inability to say “no” to superintendant Dr. Linda Burgee, and Dr. Burgee’s inability to say “no” to the demands of the Frederick Teachers Association will most likely send Ms. Smith packing.


At worst, the board tilts in favor of conservatives 4-3. At best – and as I predict – there will be a complete conservative sweep of the four seats up for grabs and the balance of power will measure 5-2.


Either scenario is a win for the children, their parents, and taxpayers.


Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
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