Jim Lee: Education becomes partisan

The race for seats on the nonpartisan Board of Education is about as partisan this election season as I have ever seen it.

The eight candidates vying for three open seats will meet Tuesday evening at a forum sponsored by The League of Women Voters, Community Media Center, Carroll County Times and WTTR AM 1470. The top six vote-getters in the primary will move on to the general election in November.

Last month, I wrote about how it was wrong for Carroll's Democratic and Republican Central committees to promote only a few of the candidates, presumably based on their political affiliation, in the Board of Education race while ignoring others. Since then, however, both organizations have updated their websites. The Republican Central Committee now links directly to the state election site, which provides a listing of all the candidates. The Democratic Central Committee has taken the Board of Education off its listings as well.

But the partisanship continues, and apparently there is even a slate of candidates that is being pushed for its "conservative" values. During the forum for county commissioner candidates in District 4, held April 14 at the Mount Airy Senior and Community Center, Commissioner Richard Rothschild called on voters to support a slate of candidates for Board of Education - Charles "Bud" Nason, Jim Roenick and George Harmening - that has passed his personal litmus test of what constitutes a true conservative.

Signs promoting the trio have also appeared, and while they refrain from using "Republican" in promoting their slate, they do emphasize the keywords commonly associated with Carroll's Republican Party, such as "conservative." Harmening was the BOE candidate originally listed on the Republican Central Committee website. And Roenick put down his Republican Party affiliation when he filed for the BOE. Nason appears regularly on the Carroll County tea party group's website.

After attending all five commissioner candidate forums, it was apparent that the tea party group and Rothschild have like-minded candidates in each district that, if they haven't already, they can easily throw their support behind. Apparently the same is true for the nonpartisan Board of Education race.

Education funding has been one of the most contentious issues with this board of commissioners. Rothschild railed against the opening of Manchester Valley during the District 4 forum, and said the county needs school board members who will shut down schools to save money.

The trio running as a "conservative" slate for the Board of Education would provide the majority needed to push through some of Rothschild's ideas about cutting school funding.

It will be interesting to hear during this week's forum where the individual candidates stand on some of these issues, and if they echo Rothschild's rhetoric about the need to cut education spending and close schools.

Unlike the commissioner races, where the candidates have a relatively small pool of voters because they are elected by district, those running for Board of Education face county-wide votes. And because the race is classified as nonpartisan, all voters who turn out for the primary, regardless of their party affiliation, will be able to help choose the candidates who will move on to the general election.

With six of the eight moving on, it is quite possible that the question of what faction will control the Board of Education will still be up in the air come November.

In the commissioner race, with both Rothschild and Frazier running to retain their seats on the Board of Commissioners, it will take only one more like-minded person to help them gain the majority there as well. And with three of the five commissioner races being decided in the primary, a majority of that board will be set in June.

Whereas those who embrace further cuts as the right path probably see a lot of opportunity in the primary election to further their agenda, those who think we are on the wrong path should hold on to their seats, because the road might just become a whole lot bumpier for them.

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