Carroll countians have begun to to receive their ballots for Maryland’s primary election through email and the postal service. Among the government bodies holding an election is the Carroll County Board of Education, for which a pool of five candidates seeks two spots. (Four will advance from the primary to November’s general election.)
The past months have meant rapid-fire change in Carroll County Public Schools as schools restructured to work remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic. And a budget process hoped to be the first year of a more predictable five-year model now grapples with an upended economy.
The candidates, in alphabetical order, are Stephanie Brooks, Virginia Harrison, Marsha Herbert, Mary Kowalski and Donna Sivigny. All candidates responded with something along the lines of “absolutely” when asked by the Times if they were prepared to take on a leadership role in a time of such uncertainty.
Candidates make their case
Herbert, current vice president of the BOE, said she and Sivigny are working hard and elated by the endorsement of the Carroll County Educators Association (CCEA).
“You’ve got to be positive about this. It’s happening and we must go forward,” she said.
Some things the school system has adopted during the shutdown may be new practices to take into the future. She said that parents and teachers she’s talked to like holding Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) meetings virtually, especially parents who might have a tough time making it in to school for a face-to-face meeting. And a distance learning foundation will let them rethink snow days.
In general, Carroll County teachers and administrators have “stepped up to the plate" with distance learning, she said, rolling out a plan weeks before other Maryland school systems. “And yes, there have been flaws,” she said. Despite the hard work that has gone into computer-based learning “You can’t beat a classroom teacher.”
“People seeing me on our virtual meetings, and they know we’re there for them. It’s just been really different. And we will go forward. We all meet again. We will look different, our classrooms will look different and school will look different. But these are challenging times and we have really stepped up, I think.”
Brooks said, “One of the big things that I hope that I get out of this process is the ability to teach from home.”
When she was a high school student, her school missed several weeks due to an aggressive blizzard season. When schools resumed, they made up for lost classroom time by extending the school day for a half hour in either direction and going two weeks later into the summer. “It’s such a vivid memory for me still,” Brooks said.
If CCPS can carry forward the ability to work online through Goggle classroom, it could be helpful for students whose health takes them out of school. She used examples of an ankle surgery with weeks of recovery or severe anxiety.
“I’m very passionate about making sure we are taking care of our students’ mental health ... This is a great tool that we have proven can be used. And we should be able to take that a step further now and say ‘How can we continue to use this to make all of our students successful?’” she said.
Harrison said she is ready to step back into leadership, having only been away from the BOE for less than two years.
“I know things have changed quite a bit. But when I stepped into it the first time, that was all new, too. And for a couple of years, all we worked on constantly was the budget,” she said. The board contended with dropping enrollment, loss of state funding and raise freezes.
“I mean it was terrible. But we worked on it,” she said. “And the one thing about Carroll County Public schools is they work as a team.”
She compared working on the school budget to running her business. In some seasons, there is a lot of money coming in, but in others business is slow. “So if you’re going to stay in business, you have to come up with something that fills in. You have to do something new, something different.”
When faced with the unexpected, “You get in there and try to solve the problem,” she said. “Because we’ve got to. We can’t sink. We have to move forward. It’s not even an option. And you’ve got to be able to make some decisions and stand up behind the decision that you make.”
Kowalski said via text message “With 17 years of experience working in the Carroll County Public School system, I have the knowledge and experience required to be an effective member of the Board of Education. The coronavirus challenge requires a combination of caution and common sense. This means that the cure cannot be worse than the disease. I believe that we must protect the vulnerable, while allowing our students to return to the classroom on schedule this fall.”
Her current focus is “to help our schools successfully navigate the coronavirus and continue to move forward with the essential academic growth of all our students in a safe and caring environment.”
Sivigny, who is the current BOE president, said, “I’m definitely prepared to step into a leadership role and work with the commissioners.”
“The timing is unfortunate,” she said of the revenue uncertainty that the school system’s budget faces.
“We had spent probably a good 18 months working directly with the commissioners and aligning our five-year budget projections and getting everyone on the same page. And we were in the position to do some really good things," Sivigny continued.
“But we recognize that there are challenges this year as the global pandemic hits. Unemployment is through the roof. National, state and local shutdowns are causing a financial crisis on top of the medical crisis, and we’re facing some pretty harsh realities right now. So we need leaders who are willing to step up and figure out how to solve these issues,” she said.
Though the school system’s budget request hasn’t changed, there are challenges they will have to work through.
“I think the public deserves to have two government bodies working together to solve these challenges,” she said. “Collaboration is key now more than ever.”
All registered voters in Carroll County will receive a ballot by mail to the address on file with the Board of Elections.
If an address is changed after the first ballot was sent out, a new ballot will be sent to the new address. The first ballot will be voided. In the case that the label on the envelope is unreadable, a new envelope can be requested. But if only a portion of one of the items in the label is unreadable, the ballot can still be sent in the envelope.
For those who don’t want to sign the oath on the outside of the return envelope, there are options. The voter can make a copy of the oath, sign and date that , and then include the copy inside their return envelope. They should note on the envelope near the unsigned oath, that the oath copy is inside.
Another option is to sign the oath on the envelope, but place it inside a larger envelope for mailing to Carroll County Board of Elections, 300 S. Center St. Room 212, Westminster, MD 21157. Postage will be required. The voter should write “Absentee Ballot “on the outside envelope along with their voter ID number, if available.
For those that want to skip the mail altogether, drop boxes for ballots will be open starting May 21 the Robert Moton Building, 300 S. Center St., Westminster; the Westminster Senior Center, 125 Stoner Ave., Westminster; and the South Carroll Swim Club 1900 W Liberty Rd., Westminster.
In-person voting will take place on a limited scale June 2 at two voting centers at the Westminster Senior Center and South Carroll Swim Club.
“Be aware that ALL social distancing and CDC guidelines will be followed at the two vote centers,” the Board of Elections wrote in a news release. “Voters should consider the exposure of COVID-19 to the individuals that must vote in-person so that we can avoid long wait times and lines. Voters should visit a vote center only if they need to.”