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As Long as We Remember...

October 2, 2012

Assessing the Board of Education Race

Earl 'Rocky' Mackintosh

After a heated, down to the wire primary battle last spring, the six candidates for the three open seats for the Frederick County Board of Education were set.


Down to the wire it was, as after votes were counted on election night, candidate Emily Ann Meyer had a three vote lead over seventh place finisher Tony Chmelik. However, after eight days of tabulating absentee ballots, Mr. Chmelik topped his opponent by a mere 11 votes.


So, we thought the cast of six candidates were set for the November general election: incumbent Katie Groth, Tom Shade, Zakir Bengali, Joy Schaefer, Colleen Cusimano and Tony Chmelik.


The top four vote getters: Ms. Groth, Mr. Shade, Dr. Bengali and Ms. Schaefer, all ran on the safe and traditional platform of “Our System is One of the Best in the Nation; So Don’t Rock the Boat … The school system has a Good Thing Going, and Keep the Union Happy.”


Then there are the other two – Ms. Cusimano and Mr. Chmelik. Both are believers that the status quo is not good enough, and that while Frederick County Public Schools does in fact rank very well in the state of Maryland, there is a significant segment of the student population that require special focus. In addition, many families of those students are not satisfied with what feels like a one-size-fits-all program.


One of the greatest challenges that a recast 2013 Board of Education will face is the fiscal problems, boiling down to critical budget decisions. This has always been a process that brings out the best and worst in school board members.


Since last April, the six candidates have been behind the scenes quietly working their spheres of influence to garner support and much needed donations.


Then just two weeks ago, the school board race re-entered the spotlight when one of the more popular candidates, 75-year-old Tom Shade dropped out of the race due to personal health concerns.


This left five candidates to vie for three slots.


The current make up of the seven member Board of Education has been politically split down the middle for the last two years with three status quo members: Angie Fish, who is not seeking re-election; Katie Groth; and Jeanne Smith, who was re-elected two years ago on name recognition alone, as her participation in the campaign process was minimal.


Then there are three new members who were swept in with Ms. Smith in the last election: Brad Young, April Miller and Jimmy Reeder. These three candidates brought for the first time in years a new perspective to school board governance. They often challenged the status quo to be more fiscally responsible, while at the same time seeking alternative forms of education, like supporting public charter school initiatives.


The swing vote for much of the last two years has been Donna Crook, who – at best – has been more indecisive than introspective in casting her votes. Ms. Crook sought re-election in the primary, but did not make the cut since, similar to her inconsistent vote casting, no one knew where she stood on issues.


Having served a total of 17 years on the boards of two private schools, nine years on the board of Frederick Memorial Hospital, and a number of other non-profit and local business governing bodies, I have learned the value of status quo representation. Even so, I have come to understand the value of having members who show leadership in challenging long held traditions, programs and systems in order to improve what many believe is fine the way it is.


Rocky Mackintosh is the owner of a land and commercial real estate firm based in Frederick. He is also the editor of the MacRo Report Blog.


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