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Incumbent Harford school board member challenged by parent advocate in District B

Robert Frisch, left, and Laura Runyeon are candidates for the Harford County Board of Education's District B seat representing Joppa, Fallston and part of Abingdon.
Robert Frisch, left, and Laura Runyeon are candidates for the Harford County Board of Education's District B seat representing Joppa, Fallston and part of Abingdon. (The Aegis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

One of the first elected members of the Harford County Board of Education is making a bid for re-election, and he is being challenged by a longtime parent advocate for school improvements who is making her first run for elected office.

Board member Robert Frisch, 60, of Joppa, is opposed by Laura Runyeon, 52, of Kingsville, for the board's county council District B seat that covers Joppa, Fallston and part of Abingdon.

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"I have been regularly attending board meetings and continue to be involved in a variety of advocacy efforts, and I saw a run for the board as a continuation of that effort of advocacy for our students and our teachers and our schools," Runyeon said.

The mother of two children in Harford County Public Schools – her daughter attends Youth's Benefit Elementary School in Fallston, and her son attends Fallston High School – is a founding member of Build It Now, an group formed to advocate for the rebuilding of aging elementary schools across Harford County, including Youth's Benefit.

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Fallston-area families have been petitioning county and state officials since the late 1990s for a replacement of Youth's Benefit, and a ground-breaking ceremony for the new school is scheduled for Oct. 21.

Runyeon has also been involved in the school system's most recent elementary school redistricting process.

She is active in her community as a current Girl Scout leader and former Cub Scout leader, and she is a member of the youth ministry team and co-chair of the confirmation class at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Bel Air.

"I think that I've had a unique perspective, having been very engaged in the schools for the last 10 years and having experienced school from all levels," she said, noting her children have been through elementary, middle and high school in Harford County.

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Runyeon said she has been able to see how decisions made by the school board affect students, teachers and school administrators, and she has had frequent interactions with other parents and teachers.

"People come to me with their questions and their concerns, and it gives me a perspective on what's important to the parents and the teachers," she said.

Frisch was among the first three board members elected in 2010, as the Harford board began its transition to a combination of six elected members and three members appointed by the governor, the result of state legislation enacted in 2009. All six elected seats are being filled for the first time in this year's election, but those elected won't take office until July 1, 2015.

Frisch won election to the District A seat in 2010. District boundaries have since shifted as a result of county council redistricting two years ago, and his Joppa home is in District B. The incumbent board member from that district, Cassandra Beverley, is not seeking re-election and is instead running for the House of Delegates.

Frisch has lived in Harford County since he was a child, and his children attended elementary and middle school in Joppa, and completed their high school education in private school. He said his first grandchild will start kindergarten in Harford County next year.

"I have a vested interest in the quality of education that we provide," he said.

He has also been involved in the PTAs at his children's schools, involved in Parks and Recreation programs and with the Boy Scouts, and he is an active member of Salem United Methodist Church in Baltimore County.

Frisch is a former Baltimore City police officer, and he spent nine years as a high school social studies and special education teacher in Baltimore County. He has also worked for private transportation companies.

"I think my everyday experience in the classroom gives me a perspective that I think is needed on the board," he said.

Frisch also touted his relationship with local officials, such as District B County Councilman Joe Woods, who is running for re-election unopposed, and Harford County's state legislators.

Frisch said the school system needs to invest in its "human capital," or employees. He said school officials must balance that investment with investment in physical capital projects, such as improvements to school facilities, "and when justified, there needs to be a balance between people and things."

He has been one of the current board's most outspoken members, often finding himself in a minority of one on votes.

"I'm not afraid to challenge the status quo and ask the tough questions, and I think that work ethic has been recognized by a lot of people," he said.

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