Six seats on the Harford County Board of Education will be filled in this year's election, the first time that's happened since state legislation passed five years ago setting up a board with six elected and three appointed members.
One board member will be elected by voters in each of the six Harford County Council districts under a convoluted process that begins with next month's primary election.
The candidates in each district will be on both the Democratic and Republican ballots in the primary, as the race is non-partisan, Dale Livingston, deputy director of the Harford County Board of Elections, said.
A total of 19 candidates filed across the six council districts.
That means even voters who are registered as independent could vote for the school board candidates in the June 24 primary, even though they won't be able to vote for other county and state offices.
The top two winners from each district in the primary will then run against each other in the general election Nov. 4. In some of the primary races, however, only two candidates are in the ballot.
The process is the same as in 2010, when three board members were elected to four-year terms, Livingston noted, the initial phase-in of the so-called blended school board.
The winners in November won't take their seats until July 1, 2015. Some of the losers might still make the board, if they are current appointees or by future appointments reserved for the governor.
Early voting for the primary takes place from June 12 to June 19.
School board members do not receive a salary, but get a small stipend for personal expenses.
Joppatowne/Edgewood – District A
Fred Mullis - Joppatowne resident Fred Mullis said he wants the county's children to have a better future.
"Our children need someone to look after their well-being and their future," he said about his reason for running.
The 74-year-old, who has grandchildren in the school system, once oversaw the multimillion-dollar Doctor Pet Center franchise, which he said gave him experience running a major budget.
"The school board is like a business," he said. "We need someone in there that understands budgeting, understands payroll, understands personnel and has some working knowledge of construction."
Mullis said he would consider cutting non-essential personnel, or schools that have, for example, two or three vice-principals, "so we can pay teachers a living wage."
Jansen Robinson - Jansen Robinson, 59, lives in Edgewood and works as a security specialist at the Aberdeen Proving Ground and said he has the "education, training and experience required to make sound, ethical and fiscally responsible decisions that benefit our students, teachers and taxpayers."
Robinson said he wants to look at all the options when considering budgeting or other issues before the school system.
"All of the options need to be on the table," he said, noting now the county is looking at a tax increase or reduction of services.
Fallston/West – District B
Bob Frisch - Bob Frisch was among the first three elected board members, winning the District A seat in 2010. Following redistricting since the last election, his Joppa home is now in District B.
"I think the board is at a critical time with the election," he said, noting there will be a fair amount of turnover as candidates step down or run for other offices.
"Stability is important, and I enjoy being on the board," Frisch, 58, said.
Frisch said he has spent a lot of time working in large organizations and has learned how to work with the school system.
"Being on the board is a steep learning curve, so I am in the position to not have to go through that," he said. "I can hit the ground running, so to speak."
"I have been proactive in keeping the lines of communication open with all the other stakeholder groups," Frisch said, adding he continues to talk with all the County Council members.
He also said he has not been afraid to go to Annapolis and advocate for the school system.
"My background in law enforcement and large organizations, and my background in the classroom, gives me the perspective to understand what happens every day," he said.
Greg Johnson - Greg Johnson, 32, once ran unsuccessfully for the Republican Central Committee. The Bel Air resident has a niece and nephew in the school system and notes his brother-in-law is a teacher.
"Of course, teachers are very upset that they have not gotten their step increases and I think it's a valid concern," he said. "I think there's got to be ways we can find cuts that are sufficient to give them an increase."
Johnson, who works at APG Federal Credit Union, said he also wonders if it is necessary to keep building schools and noted he is "vehemently opposed" to Common Core mandates.
"I would like to see the implementation go smoothly and would like to see a little more fire in the belly of the board to push back the state," Johnson explained.
Laura Runyeon - Fallston resident Laura Runyeon gained prominence as the PTA leader at Youth's Benefit Elementary School who was at the helm of the push to rebuild the school.
"I just felt that we needed more parents to engage on the level that I have been engaged at," she explained about her decision to run for the board.
Runyeon, 51, has worked as a paralegal in Baltimore for 27 years.
She said she would focus on getting more stakeholders involved in the processes affecting the school system, and she believes she has the relationships with parents and communities to be able to do that.
Runyeon has been advocating for periodic town hall meetings and said she really wants to see the consequences on the board level.
She said her experience as a highly involved parent is a perspective that has been "missing" from the board.
"I think we need people who are willing to work collaboratively," she said. "I think the relationships historically have been strained."
She said most of the relationships between stakeholders have been strained over budget issues, "and I think we are moving in the right direction, but I also think you need people who have proven themselves able to work through these issues."
Bel Air area – District C
John Anker - Candidate John Anker did not respond to several requests to be interviewed for this article.
Anker lives in Bel Air, according to the county election board.
Allyson Krchnavy - Allyson Krchnavy is the school board's longest serving member. She was appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley in 2008.
The 48-year-old mother from Bel Air, who works as a senior branch office manager at Edward Jones, said she is unique in coming from "a background of parent advocacy," being involved with the PTA long before she joined the board.
Krchnavy said she wants to continue supporting the arts and extracurricular activities. She added "there is a huge learning curve for any new board member," and she already has many connections across the state with various school board members.
Krchnavy believes she has done a lot of things "to encourage people to make those connections with the community."
She also said she would "have a hard time" supporting a budget that supports activity fees.
Joseph Voskuhl - As the former principal of Bel Air High School for seven years, Joseph Voskuhl said he believes his 41 years of experience in education give him an edge.
"I wanted to get involved again because if you look over the past five years, the board has really failed to address the budget issues," said Voskuhl, who retired in 2011 and lives in Bel Air.
He was disappointed, for example, with the school board's 2009 hiring of Robert Tomback as superintendent. Tomback stepped down last year when his contract expired
"I think the school system had very good internal candidates," Voskuhl said of that decision. "I really believe it set the school system back."
The current board has tried to manage its budget by requiring fees for athletes and those taking part in extracurricular activities and stopping bussing for magnet-school students, he noted.
"What was the purpose of those?" Voskuhl asked. "They have kind of ignored the county executive's request to see where they could combine services, maybe to save money. That hasn't been looked into."
Voskuhl, 66, said the board should consider redistricting, which "really means maybe closing unneeded schools," and should find ways to improve the situation for teachers.
He said the teacher retention rate is good, as other school systems are not hiring thousands of teachers, but "the ones that are leaving are the best. They are taking the best."
"The word is, 'Don't go to Harford County unless you can't get a job someplace else,'" he said. "Everything has been placed on their back as far as salaries, and it's really getting to a crisis in the school system."
Voskuhl also noted he would be a one-term candidate, as he is a big believer in term limits.
"I would not run for re-election; I don't have sights on a higher office," he said. "I am going to work very hard for what is best for the students of Harford County."
Darlington/North District D
Nancy Reynolds - Nancy Reynolds, 70, a Forest Hill resident, has served on the board since being appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley in 2011 and is the board president.
Reynolds, who is married with two daughters and four grandchildren, served as principal of Bel Air Middle School from 1998 to 2008, and later as a principal mentor and service learning facilitator for Harford County Public Schools. She has a bachelor's degree in English from Marietta College in Ohio and a master's in reading from Towson University.
"I have a vested interest in ensuring that all of our students receive the best possible education," she wrote in an email. "I have the desire, the knowledge and the experience to make this vision a reality."
She stated her top issues include preparing students to be competitive in a global economy and giving them appropriate technology to meet Common Core requirements and electronic PARCC testing; she described the technology piece as "extremely costly," but necessary for "every student in every classroom."
Chris Scholz - Chris Scholz, 53, lives in the Havre de Grace area and is a career and technology education teacher in Baltimore City Public Schools.
He grew up in Howard County and graduated from Glenelg High School. He has a bachelor's degree in industrial arts education and technology education from the University of Maryland, College Park, plus a master's in technology from the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore. He has been a teacher since 1984.
"I feel, as a board member, that I need to make sure that the funding is there for the students, whatever that takes," he said.
Mike Simon - Mike Simon, 29, lives in Street. The North Harford High School graduate is a project manager with Empire Corrugated Machinery.
He plans to graduate from Harford Community College in the fall with a degree in business administration, and a concentration in economics. Simon has a long-term girlfriend and no children.
"I would love my future children to be able to grow up in Harford County, and the only way I'm going to feel comfortable with that is if there is a school system where they can learn," he said.
The issues of concern for him include balancing the school system's budget and the unpopular Common Core State Standards, which are scheduled to be implemented during the 2014-2015 school year.
"If Harford County can make a big enough splash about this, make enough noise, get some other counties riled up, there might be a chance that we can get this thing repealed together as a state," he said.
Tishan D. Weerasooriya - Tishan Weerasooriya, 22, is a Towson University student who is studying psychology and political science.
The Forest Hill resident has also attended West Virginia University and has an associate's degree from Harford Community College in biology and chemistry.
"I want every child in Harford County to receive the best education they can so they can become the most influential and inspirational individual they can be and change our community as well as in the state and country for the better," he wrote in an e-mail.
Weerasooriya takes current school board members to task for "not fighting for funding" for the school system; he called the projected $30 million gap for the fiscal 2015 HCPS budget – between what school officials say they need for operations and what they are likely to get from funding sources – "unacceptable."
"New leadership is needed in order to repair relations with Annapolis as well as fight for our children as our public school system is starting to come apart," he wrote.
Aberdeen/Churchville - District E
Rachel Gauthier - Rachel Gauthier, 42, is a counselor at Stemmers Run Middle School in Baltimore County. The Southern California native is a graduate of William S. Hart High School in Los Angeles County.
The Bel Air resident moved to Maryland at age 20; she has a bachelor's degree in psychology and sociology from Towson University and a master's in counselor education from McDaniel College in Western Maryland.
She has a 7-year-old daughter who attends Prospect Mill Elementary School, and her 4-year-old son is in day care.
"My kids," Gauthier said when asked why she is running. "I love my kids, and I want to make sure they have the best education they can get."
Gauthier, who describes herself as a "concerned mom," said she wants to see greater support for schools from the county executive and the county council, pay raises for teachers and for school officials to revisit the busing changes they made to save money this year.
Arthur Kaff - Arthur Kaff, 49, is a civilian employee of the Department of the Army in Washington, D.C. He was appointed by the governor to the Board of Education in 2012 and has lived in Harford County since 2000.
"Instructional support and our public educational system needs to be fully funded so that our students can receive the best possible education," he wrote in an e-mail. "This will also be a great investment in the future of our county."
Kaff, who is married with three children, lives in the Fountain Green area near Bel Air.
He is a graduate of Andrew Warde High School in Fairfield, Conn. He has a bachelor's degree in political science from SUNY-New Paltz, a law degree from Quinnipiac University School of Law in Connecticut and a master's in strategic studies from the Army War College.
Kaff is a lieutenant colonel (promotable) in the Army Reserve; he stressed that his campaign statements are not endorsed by the Army.
"Everything I express is my own personal opinion," he said.
Kaff said he wants to focus on issues such as increasing employee salaries, fully funding schools and supporting programs from special education to the arts.
Stephen Macko - Stephen Macko of the Bel Air area will be on the primary ballot, but he has dropped out of the race. He said he determined his job duties would keep him from fully committing to serving on the school board.
He did not drop out in enough time for his name removed from the ballot.
"With respect to job responsibilities, it came to my attention that I would not be able to give the position the attention it deserved," he explained.
Barney Michel - Barney Michel, 64, of Bel Air, is a retired civil service and defense employee, having spent 27 years working with Aberdeen Proving Ground programs.
Michel is a graduate of Annapolis Senior High School; he has a bachelor's degree in government and politics and history from the University of Maryland and a master's in systems and quantitative analysis from the Florida Institute of Technology.
He is married with two adult children. He has been a member of the Parent Advisory Committees at Hickory Elementary School and Southampton Middle School and worked with the Futures 11 program for high school juniors.
He has also participated in multiple initiatives involving state, regional and military organizations to promote STEM education in Harford County, including the development of the Science and Mathematics Academy magnet program at Aberdeen High School.
"The structural deficit facing the school board is the overarching issue facing our school board," Michel stated in an e-mail. "The fact that teachers have had a single 1 percent step increase in over five years is testimony to this."
Havre de Grace/Abingdon - District F
Thomas Fitzpatrick - Thomas Fitzpatrick, 57, was appointed to the school board by the governor in 2012.
The Havre de Grace resident, who is married, has a bachelor's degree in political science from Loyola University and an MBA from the University of Baltimore. He is the East Coast sales manager for Modular Wetlands Inc.
"Nothing reflects a county's commitment to its future or to the well-being of its children than the quality of its public education system," he wrote in an email.
Fitzpatrick highlighted the funding issues the school system has faced in recent years, including teachers not receiving promised salary steps.
"I intend to bring my experience as a board member to the fight for increased funding and for more support for our schools," he wrote. "It may be a cliché to say that our schools are our future, but it's also fact."
Joseph Fleckenstein - Joseph Fleckenstein, 42, works for the Chenega Corporation, a defense contractor with Aberdeen Proving Ground.
The Bel Air native and Abingdon resident is divorced with no children.
He is a graduate of Bel Air High School; he has an associate's degree in business administration from Harford Community College and a bachelor's from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland.
Fleckenstein wants to remove big government influence from local education, such as the Common Core State Standards.
"The more we educate parents and teachers about the true nature of Common Core, the sooner we will steer the conversation in the correct direction," he wrote in an email.
He also pledged to work with all parties, regardless of their views, to "raise educational standards while staying within budgetary limits."
Michael Hitchings - Michael Hitchings, 37, of Havre de Grace, is a civilian project and program manager at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
His is a graduate of Havre de Grace High School; he also has a bachelor's degree in biology from St. Mary's College of Maryland and is working on a master's in environmental engineering and science through John's Hopkins University.
Hitchings, who is married with three children, is a member of the Havre de Grace Board of Appeals and sits on the City Council's ad hoc traffic subcommittee. He is a former member of the city's planning commission. Hitchings wrote in an e-mailed statement that his issues of concern include teacher salaries and retention, school infrastructure and Common Core.
"I want to bring my deep-dive perspective and personal investment as a father of children in HCPS into the fold to support the strength and capabilities of this program through the 21st century!" he wrote.