We can only hope that the woodwork is full. At present there are so few
candidates for significant and major offices in September's primary and
November's general election that it is scary.
The Gazette headlined a story on its front page last Thursday about the lack
of candidates for the Frederick County Board of Education. Seems that none,
or perhaps only two, of those who ran in 2000 will put their names forward
That is not really surprising. The filing deadline in 2000 was before the
end of 1999. For the six who were successful in the March 2000 primary, it
meant a campaign that lasted more than 10 months, and for some as long as a
year. It was grueling - to say the least. The candidate forums separated the
wheat from the chaff, but that made little difference to the voters, who
elected a staunch conservative, an espoused liberal, and the sitting
president of the Board of Education.
As a personal aside, it was gratifying to learn after the election that two
people, heavily involved in the forums for the BOE candidates, cast their
ballots in my direction because they saw a willingness to change positions
on major issues when additional information became available.
A seat on the Board of Education is not for anyone who has a special agenda,
one that particularly does not address the needs of the many as opposed to
those of the few. Oh, yes, the few have mandates that protect them from
neglect in favor of the many. But generally, BOE members cannot impose their
political or social will on the 38,000 students in Frederick County Public
The time consumption is enormous. Jean Smith, a current BOE member who will
seek an elected seat, devotes so much to the school system that her family
must be suffering. Fortunately, her children are grown, and she always seems
to find time for her grandchildren.
One of those elected in 2000, on the other hand, has a job in the private
sector which also demands a great deal of time. Therefore, when there is a
meeting that must be attended on days of the week other than Wednesdays,
FCPS sets up a video conference call to accommodate this member. This isn't
really fair to the other members who actually take time off from their
outside employment to attend those sessions.
But the job of a Board of Education member is far more intense that just
showing up for meetings. There are mountains of support materials that must
be read and absorbed. There are the meetings with individual staff members
that must be conducted to get a clear understanding of particular issues.
And one must learn to differentiate between those on the staff who will give
you proper and clear information from those who will only provide the data
which supports the superintendent's position.
And that is difficult. Most of the senior staff works at the pleasure of the
superintendent, not for the Board of Education. Yes, disciplined staffers
can appeal, in most cases, to the BOE. But, as we have seen all too often,
what the superintendent wants, the superintendent gets, no matter what the
BOE thinks is called for and proper.
Another issue which raises its ugly head every year is the budget. The BOE
cannot raise funds itself. It must rely on the federal, state and county
governments for its funding. And recent events concerning the county
commissioners' understanding of the way the BOE staff conducts itself could
make for a testy time of it for the foreseeable future.
The educrats have a reputation in some quarters of hiding information, not
only from the public, but from the BOE itself. It is not a good way to run a
railroad, much less a school system with a budget which will exceed $300
million in the coming year.
The new members of the BOE have been bogged down in the minutia of the
school system operations rather than focusing on the real heart of their
job - educating our children. No matter what the superintendent, his staff
or the BOE members say, the public perception is that too many of our
children are leaving our school system without a quality education. Too many
can't read, too many need a calculator to do basic math. And don't even ask
about history. Too many can't tell you who the first president of The United
States was or in what century he lived.
So, it really isn't a wonder why only one candidate has officially filed.
The job is hard, much more so than the average citizen thinks. The hours are
killing. The money and benefits are outrageously low when assessed against
the commitment. However, there are non-monetary rewards that warm the heart
and make one appreciate others all the more.
And we haven't even mentioned redistricting yet. This is perhaps the most
painful process of all. And no educrat or superintendent, or BOE member
comes out a winner in that process. Someone will always be angry no matter
what decision is made.
And the state has dumped a huge problem into the lap of the next BOE. How is
Frederick County going to provide more than 1,200 more seats in its
elementary schools to accommodate all-day kindergarten.
And should we get fanatics on our Board of Education, we will be in real
There is no envy here of those who will serve on the Board of Education in