School board grows by one with 32nd District member

The Baltimore Sun

Thanks to a new law, the Anne Arundel County Board of Education will grow this week.

Gov. Martin O'Malley recently appointed Teresa Birge, a part-time accountant from Seven Oaks, to represent state legislative District 32, bumping up the size of the board from eight members to nine. Until this year, Districts 21 and 32 shared a seat on the board.

He also reappointed board president Tricia Johnson of Davidsonville to serve a second five-year term in the at-large seat, while Collin Wojciechowski, a senior at Chesapeake High School, will serve one year as the student representative on the board. They officially get their jobs on Tuesday, and the new board will meet for the first time July 9.

Birge, 36, who has two children, said she hopes to use her background working with the House of Delegates' Appropriation Committee to help demystify the budget process for her constituents in West County. After watching the county executive and the superintendent battle over budget items, she wants to find a way to tone down the rhetoric and work together.

"That was very difficult for everyone," Birge said. "I would hope in the future we could avoid that."

Birge attended Crofton Elementary, the former Crofton Junior High and Arundel High School. She earned a bachelor's degree in political science and mass communications from Towson University in 1993 and a master's degree in public administration from the University of Delaware in 1995.

Birge served as a policy analyst for the Department of Legislative Services for the General Assembly for the next three years, where she worked with the appropriations committee. She then became director of governmental affairs for the Maryland Municipal League. In 2000, she became a legislative analyst for the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration. After she had her second child in 2005, she worked part time as a government relations consultant and as special assistant to the director of state relations for the University System of Maryland.

In February, Birge started working part time as an accountant for Walsh & Associates Financial Services Inc. in Annapolis. She hopes to one day run her own accounting firm from home.

Birge said she ran for school board because she wanted to return to public service while balancing the needs of her son, Carter, 6, and daughter, Claire, 3.

"The schools are going to be very important to me for the next 15 years," she said.

Teacher recruitment and retention are two of her biggest concerns. She said she is glad to see that the county is participating in the Troops to Teachers program, which recruits former military personnel. Birge also wants to build up job-training programs for students who aren't college bound. The $1.5 billion school maintenance and construction backlog worries her, too.

Birge and Johnson were among the candidates recommended to O'Malley by the new School Board Nomination Committee, created through state legislation passed last year. The commission replaced a 250-person caucus that selected a person for a school board seat whom the governor was not required to appoint. Now, the 11-member commission recommends at least two candidates for each vacancy. In May, the commission forwarded the names of four nominees for the at-large seat and two for the District 32 seat to the governor, who had to choose from that list.

The appointees must submit to a "retention vote"- meaning their name will be the only one on the ballot - in the November general election.

Wojciechowski was elected by the Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils in March, then appointed by the governor. He will replace graduating senior Sage Snider.

Wojciechowski, 16, has been interested in politics since he became involved in student government in sixth grade. Last year he served as junior class president.

"It's been an ambition of mine for a while," Wojciechowski said Wednesday by phone from Justin, Texas, where he was attending the National Association of Student Councils conference

Wojciechowski said his top priority would be to end the middle practice of alternating semesters of social studies and science. Students have complained that it is hard to keep up after having a long break in a subject. Wojciechowski wants the schedule to include the subjects year-round.

He said he also is concerned about increasing class sizes. Wojciechowski said he has been trading notes with Snider so that he will be prepared for his first meeting.

"I'm more excited than nervous," he said.

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