EDUCATION • BY KIRSTY GROFF
The April 3 Maryland primary helped narrow the field of candidates to the top two candidates in each race for the Montgomery County Board of Education’s District 2 and at-large seats.
In a close District 2 primary vote, Fred Evans of Rockville and Rebecca Smondrowski of Gaithersburg will advance to the Nov. 6 election, following provisional and absentee ballot tabulation. Evans received 24.77 percent of the vote, and Smondrowski received 22.42, according to the unofficial results.
Phil Kauffman of Olney and Morris Panner of Chevy Chase will advance in the race for at-large representative, with the candidates getting 60.3 and 16.97 percent of the votes, respectively.
The November election will also determine the District 4 representative, but since only two possible candidates are running, both candidates Christopher Barclay and Annita Seckinger will advance.
The Montgomery County Education Association, the county’s union of more than 12,000 teachers and education staff, are backing Kauffman as at-large representative and Barclay for District 4. They supported both Evans and Jeanne Ellinport, who received 21.74 percent of the vote, for District 2. A double endorsement from the MCEA is somewhat rare.
“It’s unusual; it’s not unprecedented,” said MCEA Executive Director Tom Israel. Recommendations are made through an assembly of 150 representatives; a “super majority” is needed to win the endorsement. “What really happened was there were two candidates, both of whom were well thought of by our reps, and neither of them got the super majority, so they decided to recommend them both. Both of these candidates would both be responsive to the concerns and needs of teachers.”
According to Janis Sartucci of the Parents’ Coalition of Montgomery County, the double vote may represent the pick of the county teachers and the union’s pick, with support behind Evans and Ellinport respectively. “It looks like the actual classroom teachers are having a say in how the endorsement process works,” said Sartucci.
Until the provisional and absentee ballots are counted, the county cannot release an official number. The county sent 6,393 absentee ballots out and have received 4,178 back; more than 1,000 provisional ballots will also be counted.
The board of elections counted the remaining ballots last week and is expected to certify the results later today, according to Marjorie Roher, Management & Budget Specialist and Public Information Officer for the Montgomery County Board of Elections. From there, the results will move to the state elections board for final certification. The official Montgomery County results should be available late this week.
With Ellinport being separated from the second place spot by 454 votes, and Evans’ unofficial vote total only 1,586 votes larger than Smondrowski’s, the official results could potentially show a change in fall election candidates. “I never call an election until the results are official,” said Roher, though, “I have not had the opportunity to go back and see if any results could be greatly affected.”
In order to provide voters with information about for whom to vote, organizations like the League of Women Voters and MCEA submitted questionnaires to the candidates. They asked about their general priorities as potential board member, thoughts on the special education system, use of online learning systems and how the candidates got interested in politics, among other questions.
One topic covered by the League of Women Voters was the maintenance of effort law, which has been the subject of controversy. The state law says the school budget must provide the same amount of money or more per child as the previous year, meant to avoid drastic cuts to education budgets in Maryland.
Additionally, each county must match the funding received from the state for education, a requirement that is increasingly difficult to make in a tough economy. Counties who think they will not meet the stated requirements can petition for a waiver from the requirements.
Both Evans and Smondrowski think the process could be improved, with Evans pointing out that “Montgomery County often exceeded the MOE [requirements] and should receive allowances during tough economic times” and Smondrowski wanting to ensure the funds for education are “directed to the school systems as intended rather than diverted through loopholes.”
A related issue in the board of education race is the education budget process in general. The proposed overall county budget for fiscal year 2013 is $4.57 billion; $2.13 billion of this will go toward Montgomery County public schools — 46.7 percent of the entire county budget. In fiscal year 2011, the MCPS budget made up 57 percent of the county budget.
“Having worked the polls a number of years, the vast majority that go to the polls to vote have no idea what the board of education race is about,” said Sartucci. “They don’t even know what the board does, they don’t realize it spends over half of the county dollars.”
Citizens will have until the Nov. 6 election to better familiarize themselves with the two candidates in each district and at-large position, ensuring board of election picks that will support the county school system.
“The top vote-getter in each of the races was a candidate that had the support from MCEA and teachers, so we will be working to help them both out over the next six months here,” said Israel. “We think both of the top vote-getters are candidates who would be good advocates for our schools, and it was affirming to see voters felt the same way.”