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December 18, 2003

Who’s Our Most Effective Elected Official?

John P. Snyder

In the six years that he has served on the Frederick County school board, he has quietly, but effectively, made our school system better each year. Whether you are a taxpayer with children in public schools, or not, it would be hard to see your interests represented any better than by him.

It is said that for those who serve on local schools boards there is no judgment day when they leave the earth. Rather, for their trouble and effort while serving the educational needs of their community, they go straight to heaven.

It was the summer of 1997 and local Republican activists were in an agitated state. Despite the fact that most elected officeholders in the county were Republicans, and that they had a large lead in voter registration, positions on the appointed Board of Education remained the private domain of liberal Democrats.

A succession of Democratic governors had always accepted the advice of the Democratic State Central Committees for appointments to the board. Republicans were faced with either waiting around for the state to elect a Republican governor or force a referendum on creating an elected school board.

In an effort to stem the tide created by those who favored an elected school board, the educational elite of Frederick tossed the Republican activists a bone. Sent to Governor Glendening for appointment to a seat on the board was Ron Peppe, a Republican.

Seldom has such a conciliatory bone turned out to be so successful! Ron Peppe is a product of the Frederick County schools. By demeanor and intent he is perfectly suited for the demands of the job. No bloated ego here. He is not one to exhibit the dreaded traits of those who feel certain that they, and they alone, have been anointed by God himself to lead the effort to create educational excellence in our schools.

He is not driven by emotion. He is guided by a pragmatic devotion to facts. His basic tenets are two. The first is that it is not right for the system to bestow a diploma for simply showing up.

Rather, he feels that every student should be pushed to learn, that standards be upheld and that a diploma from a Frederick county school should represent real achievement. It pains him greatly to learn from area employers that some graduates from our schools can't read or do basic math. The second is that the process has to be examined regularly to look for waste in the budget in order to make do the best they can with taxpayers money.

His effort to eliminate the D grade was a smart idea. Either you failed or you received a C or better. It was a proven motivator, the teachers approved of it. It helped raise standards without spending a lot of money. Sadly, the initiative was stopped by other members of the board, who, to paraphrase President Bush, were guilty of the "soft bigotry of low expectations".

It became a racial issue, and some linquini-spined member of the board, who should have known better, voted to end the practice. The idea is not dead, for there is word that the faculty of Frederick High is considering asking for a waiver so they may implement the "no D" system for use at their school.

His idea to move the school day up an hour certainly seemed controversial. I wondered myself how I was going to roust my two sons at 5:45 a.m. every morning to make their bus to TJ. The first weeks were rough, but they have become comfortable with getting up early and meeting the bus at 6:20 a.m. everyday. When an employer insists on an early start time, they will be ready. They won't beg off, sighting scientific studies that show youth need their sleep.

The move to an earlier day has meant a savings of nearly a million dollars this year and $2 million for next year. No small amount of savings!

The challenges facing the educational system of Frederick are enormous. A new east county high school is needed. It will cost $50 million to start up. Where will the money come from? With the influx of Hispanic students to Frederick County, how will federal directives from the "No Child Left Behind" legislation be met?

Mr. Peppe has just filed for another term, despite the fact that his employer, Canam Steel, has placed a For Sale sign on the front gate. Whatever time he might serve in another term will be a plus for the students of Frederick County. We need him on the board to help us meet those challenges effectively. No one else will do.

Should you see him in your travels, please provide Mr. Peppe encouragement and support in the coming campaign. He is, after all, Fredericks most effective elected official.

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