Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified a positive statement made by former Maryland Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick. While Kittleman's campaign literature quotes Grasmick as saying the state senator "has made substantial contributions to [the] education of the students of Maryland," she has not endorsed any candidate in the Howard County executive race.
As the school season begins, state Sen. Allan Kittleman, the Republican candidate for county executive, is under attack for his views on education and a host of other topics.
Howard Democrats have launched a site, KittlemanFacts.com, that they say exposes the truth about Kittleman's "reliably conservative record." The site is paid for by the Team Howard Slate, a group of county Democrats that includes Watson, County Executive Ken Ulman, County Council Chairman Calvin Ball and state Del. Guy Guzzone.
On Monday, just as the site began to get some press, Kittleman released his education policy, a nine-point platform of pledges that focus not only on the school system itself but on the community and circumstances that affect the lives of each student.
"We have a persistent Achievement Gap in Howard County despite having one of the best school systems in the country. ... As County Executive, I will do everything I can to close the Gap by working with Superintendent [Renee] Foose, the Board of Education, the Howard County Education Association and parents," Kittleman's platform begins. "However, we can no longer look just within our schools for answers. It will take our entire community to work, plan and invest together before the Gap will close."
Kittleman's platform promises to work to fund a 13th high school in the county, re-evaluate Howard's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance and "address overcrowding in homes through new diversified housing policies."
It also echoes calls for a pre-kindergarten program, a campaign staple of Democrats this election season, by promising to create a "birth-to-five countywide initiative that prepares vulnerable families and children for kindergarten, ensuring all children start off on a level playing field." With a significant Republican registration disadvantage in the county, Kittleman needs to win over Democrats and Independents to be successful.
But the pledge that tops Kittleman's list is to not cut school funds. At KittlemanFacts.com, county Democrats say he has "repeatedly cast votes that would undermine our school funding."
The creators of the site point to a 2003 alternative budget proposed by Kittleman and now-tech chief Chris Merdon, his Republican colleague on the County Council at the time, which sought to fund county services without raising taxes. To make ends meet, the budget cut $5 million from the school system, according to a Baltimore Sun article.
The site also points to Kittleman's votes against the state budget and his low ratings from the Maryland State Education Association, the state's teachers union.
It also cites a 2006 Washington Examiner article, in which Kittleman is quoted as saying that he would support allowing teachers and principals to carry concealed weapons to protect students at school.
Kittleman said the Examiner quote was false, and that he had contacted the reporter at the time to try to get it corrected.
"I can just tell you unequivocally I never said that quote, that quote was inaccurate, it was just not true," he said, adding that he does not support concealed weapons in schools.
He said his state-level budget votes were a protest against a budget he considered bloated, not against education in particular.
"Most people would say that our spending has gone overboard," he said.
Kittleman pointed to positive statements by Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick, former Republican Howard County Executive and Superintendent of Carroll County Schools Chuck Ecker and former Howard County Board of Education Chairwoman Diane Mikulis as proof that education professionals trusted his judgment: "Clearly, everything I've done has been to help education, and they know that," he said.
"I just think it's comical that that's the hardest thing they have to hit me on. There's a whole lot more to the budget than education," he added.
At a recent town hall forum in Glenwood, Kittleman dismissed interest group rankings as politically motivated. During his time in the state Senate, he voted against a bill requiring public school teachers to pay labor union fees and another establishing a public school labor relations board. In 2014, however, he voted to support an extension of an act related to collective bargaining for public school employees, and requiring the Public School Labor Relations Board to report to a General Assembly committee.
"I have believed for all my life that you shouldn't be required to join a union and you shouldn't be required to pay a fee to a union if you choose not to join them," Kittleman said on his teachers' union votes. But, "I've met with the teachers' union many, many times, and I think I understand now pretty well their argument for having that. Some of, it I think, makes a little more sense after meeting with them many times. But still, the reason I voted against that in the past is that I don't think, if somebody doesn't want to be a part of the union, they should have to pay the fee."
Kittleman called the site, which also criticizes his positions on the environment, gun control, women's issues and the minimum wage, "the act of a desperate campaign."
"I have chosen not to run a campaign based on fear, I've chosen to run a campaign based on optimism for the future," he said.
Ball said the site was an "opportunity to help empower voters who want to know the facts about Republican Allan Kittleman's record.
"I think that it is important to really highlight the differences between our two candidates for county executive. ... If there was a website about every official for the last 20 years that says here's how they voted, I think that's transparent and that helps voters make informed decisions."
Kittleman's opponent, County Councilwoman Courtney Watson, is a former Board of Education member and has touted her support for schools throughout the campaign.
Campaign finance numbers
In the financial race between the county executive candidates, Kittleman posted strong numbers this week.
Tuesday afternoon, his campaign announced that the candidate had collected $110,000 over the reporting period, which stretched from June 9 to Aug. 19. The number was three times the funds raised by Watson, who reported $30,976 in donations.
Watson, however, kept the lead in cash on hand, reporting $644,243.51 to Kittleman's $308,900.