Baltimore County executive candidates square off on education

Four of the five announced candidates for Baltimore County executive pitched themselves as advocates for education during a forum Tuesday at the Community College of Baltimore County's Catonsville campus.

They also, to varying degrees, promised to change the culture of Baltimore County government and add transparency they say is lacking.

The event featured two Democrats — state Sen. Jim Brochin of Cockeysville and former Del. Johnny Olszewski Jr. of Dundalk — and two Republicans — Del. Pat McDonough and state insurance commissioner and former Del. Al Redmer, both of Middle River.

The fifth candidate, County Councilwoman Vicki Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat, did not attend.

John Dedie, a political science professor at the college, said he arranged for candidates from both parties to share the stage to show that local policy issues can be discussed without ending in “nuclear armageddon,” as he said sometimes happens in Washington.

The county executive’s position will be open next year, as current County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, a Democrat, is barred from running again due to term limits. He’s now running for governor.

Questions from Dedie and the audience of a few dozen people skewed heavily toward education in general, and community colleges specifically. All four candidates used the opportunity to heap praise on the community college and its role in educating students and training workers.

Each said he would fight for state funding for CCBC and to ensure the college’s programs meet the needs of students and employers.

Asked about proposals to make community college in Baltimore County tuition-free, a proposal that has been suggested in Baltimore City, none of the candidates offered full support.

For the Democrats, Olszewski said he supports making community college free for people earning job certifications, and Brochin said a free tuition program should be based on financial need and not extended to all students.

For the Republicans, McDonough said he did not support free tuition, but suggested instead creating scholarships that the Baltimore County Council and the county executive could distribute — similar to the pool of scholarship money that state lawmakers have. Redmer said there’s not money available in the county budget for free tuition.

All four candidates offered criticism of the county’s public school system and offered promises of reform.

Redmer said interim schools superintendent Verletta White should resign from her position. The Baltimore Sun reported that White earned income from a tech consulting company that works with school system vendors. She did not report that income on her ethics forms.

Brochin noted that he has asked for a state audit of the issue, and McDonough pointed out that he had filed an ethics complaint about the previous superintendent, Dallas Dance, who was found to have a side contract with a company called SUPES Academy.

Olszewski, a former teacher in the school system, said he’d reserve judgment on White while the school board’s evaluation of the issue plays out.

Also on schools, Brochin offered support for “community schools,” where schools offer services to families and parents such as health care and GED classes. Olszewski touted his experience as a teacher and said that the best way to help local schools is to elect a former teacher.

McDnough railed against “social promotion” and said he’d eliminate Common Core curriculum standards. Redmer said there’s a lack of accountability in the school system, and that change is needed.

The primary election is scheduled for June 26, with the general election next Nov. 6. The next Baltimore County executive will lead the state’s third-largest jurisdiction and oversee a $3.5 billion annual budget.

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