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September 25, 2012

Parents, Taxpayers and The Board of Education

Guest Columnist

Pam Ward


A Better Choice, Frederick PAC (ABC PAC) was founded to represent the parents and taxpayers of Frederick County in the public school system by recommending candidates for their Board of Education who will listen to those voices.


The ABC PAC created a survey inviting all school board candidates to respond to questions in three areas: Accountability of School Systems, Budgeting and Financial Responsibility, and School Choice and Reform.


We recommend two of the five candidates who will respect, listen to, and support parents and taxpayers within Frederick County Public Schools based on the topics of Accountability, Budgeting Discipline, and School choice. They are Colleen Cusimano and Tony Chmelick!


These are the candidates who will encourage parents to speak out about roadblock issues: establishing a foreign language hub at their child’s school, transportation, curriculum and fact-based textbooks, and more! They are not afraid to hear the voice of those outside of the school system staff. Ms. Cusimano and Mr. Chmelik will even let the county commissioners ask questions at school board meetings without the currently required 24-hours notice!


Here are some excerpts from Ms. Cusimano’s and Mr. Chmelik’s survey responses that highlight where they stand on the ABC PAC topics.


Parents Role in Their Child’s Education and School Choice


When asked if she believes that parents are the primary educators of their children and, as such, Frederick County Public Schools should place itself in the role of facilitating parental choices for education, Ms. Cusimano said:


“I do believe that parents and family are the first and always primary educators of our children. I agree that (our school system) should place itself in the role of facilitating parental choice for education. I support the formation of independent charter schools. When free of the bureaucratic leadership of the school system, and permitted to implement well-developed educational plans, they represent an opportunity for students. I support parents having a vocal pivotal role in education planning for our special needs children. The most successful partnerships have been managed when parents bring an advocate who is well versed in what services and accommodations are available. If everyone is working together and the parents’ voices are heard, a mediator should not be required.”


Mr. Chmelik agreed that parents are the primary educators of their children and offered these suggestions:


“I also believe (our school system) should look at options to increase parental choices within the system, such as allowing consortium programs like Montgomery County does, allowing home schooled students to attend school part-time as other areas do, and implementing a magnet program at all grade levels, which (our school system) has unfortunately decided to phase out of elementary schools.”


Do you believe that our school system needs additional revenue to be more successful?


Ms. Cusimano answered:


“No. Having worked behind the scenes (in our school system) from 2008 – 2010, I saw incredible wastefulness that has been entrenched for years. While we are now making budget decisions that include eliminating jobs, I have seen little effort to reign in the waste.”


Mr. Chmelik replied:


“I believe that (our school system) needs to do a better job of managing its resources. If the amount of money spent per child determined the success of school systems, it would be easy to support higher budgets, but research has never found that this is the case. For instance, Washington DC has had poor results but also one of the highest per pupil budgets in the nation. I would also point out that in direct contrast to DC, across the river, affluent Arlington VA per pupil expenditure is in excess of $19,000 and their results are clearly no better than ours at $12,600. It is incumbent for us to come up with new ideas and think out of the box when it comes to spending taxpayers’ money.”


Everyone is welcome to read the entire unedited candidate survey responses as well as the evaluators’ comments and recommendations. Click the link below. You may want to contact the teacher’s union and ask them to make their endorsed candidates’ responses available to the public.


Mr. Chmelik and Ms. Cusimano were the only candidates who answered the ABC PAC survey. We offered the survey and endorsement opportunity to all candidates, but the other three declined. Here are their responses.


Incumbent School Board Member Katie Groth responded in an email:


I do not plan to respond to your questionnaire as the very first question you ask probably eliminates me from any support from your organization. [Did you seek the endorsement of the Frederick County Teachers Association?] While I did not actively "seek" endorsement from the (school system) employee bargaining groups, I gladly accepted the endorsement of the (teachers’ union). There really is no point in my submitting a response to your questions.


“I do support and would always defend your right to conduct your campaign for school improvement. After all, that is what we are all about. I will continue to make the nearly 41,000 (school system) students and their families my highest priority, not only in my campaign for re-election, but also in my work as a member of the Board of Education of Frederick County.”


Joy Schaefer offered this reply:


My husband and I have been dealing with some health issues regarding our parents in the last few weeks. That, coupled with getting my three boys ready for school to start, forced me to shift some priorities.


However, in my brief look at your questionnaire in early August, I believe that some of my positions on several of your questions can be found on my website. You'll find links to other questionnaires that I answered and were published during the primary. I encourage you to take a look if you haven't already:”


Kristen Eddins, ABC PAC president, spoke with Dr. Zakir Bengali on the phone regarding his survey response. Ms. Eddins recalls:


Dr. Bengali and I spoke for about a half an hour. When I asked Dr. Bengali if he would be submitting his responses he stated ‘...the questions were alien to me." He also referred to the questionnaire as "politically oriented." His response regarding the political nature of the questionnaire begs the question, does Dr. Bengali fully recognize by accepting the endorsement from the teachers union, he is benefiting from financial resources that are completely drawn from the union’s affiliated Political Action Committee, The Fund for Children & Public Education?


I would think that candidates for the Board of Education of Frederick County would welcome the chance to have an endorsement by parents and taxpayers and would jump on the chance to listen to parents’ views, and show that they will not be quick to judge and prove that they will be wise in making school decisions with all perspectives present.


If these candidates are not willing to answer parents and taxpayers questions, how open to those voices will they be as a member of the school board?


Remember! Vote for two candidates only, Tony Chmelik and Colleen Cusimano. Don’t waste a third vote on a candidate who is not willing to answer your questions.


[Editor’s Note: Pam Ward is the secretary of the ABC PAC and is a professor of mathematics at Frederick Community College. School Board Candidate Tom Shade withdrew from the race recently due to health concerns. His name will still be on the ballot.]


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