Harford school board makeup headed for major changes in next 16 months

At least four members of the Harford County Board of Education, including the current president and vice president, as well as the board’s two longest serving members, will not be returning when their current four-year terms end in July 2019.

With the passing of Tuesday night’s deadline to file as a candidate for one of the board’s six elected seats, three current members, president Joseph Voskuhl, vice president Laura Runyeon and Nancy Reynolds did not file as candidates even though they were eligible to serve another term. Member Robert Frisch, who was elected to the board in 2010 and re-elected in 2014 could not run again because the law limits members to two, full elected terms.

This year is the third election cycle since Harford County voters began electing school board members, and the second to elect the full complement of six members. The board also has three members who are appointed by the governor, under the so-called hybrid or blended board concept approved through state legislation in the mid-2000s.

Voskuhl and Reynolds were elected in 2014, and Runyeon was appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan. The term of the current board ends June 30, 2019, nearly eight months after this November’s general election decides who the next six elected members will be. The election is non-partisan and the seats coincide with the six County Council districts.

The board is in the midst of recruiting and hiring a new superintendent to replace Barbara Canavan, who is retiring June 30 and has led HCPS for almost five years.

The board’s goal is to have Canavan’s successor hired in May and ready to work when she leaves, but the election timing means that a number of people involved in picking the new superintendent will no longer be serving within a year after he or she comes on board.

Runyeon said Thursday that she wants to give someone else a chance to serve.

“I happen to believe in limiting terms and giving others opportunities to come forward with ideas and ways that they think can improve the system, and so I have decided to serve a single term,” she said.

Runyeon, a Harford County Public Schools parent, had been heavily involved in community service before her time on the board, including helping to found the community group, Build It Now, to advocate for the replacement of the then-aging Youth’s Benefit Elementary School. The final phase of the new building construction opened to students this past November.

Voskuhl reiterated a campaign pledge that he would only serve one term and that he would serve “to the best of my ability.”

“I believe in term limits,” he said Thursday.

Voskuhl retired as principal of Bel Air High School in 2011, ending a career that started with HCPS in 1986. He spent 41 years total in education, including his time in Baltimore City and Harford County.

Voskuhl said he would go back to being retired when his term ends next year.

“One thing we’ve worked very hard to do” is to get teachers’ salaries where they should be, he said of his time on the board.

Among the other current board members, Jansen Robinson, who was elected in 2014 from District A encompassing Joppa and Edgewood, filed for re-election and does not have an opponent.

Elected members Thomas Fitzpatrick, who represents District F encompassing Havre de Grace, Riverside and Abingdon, and Rachel Gauthier, who represents District E encompassing Aberdeen, Churchville and Fountain Green, also are running for second terms and both have single opponents.

Fitzpatrick is opposed by Sonja Karwacki and Gauthier is opposed Arthur Kaff, a former appointed member whom Gauthier defeated in the 2014 election.

Alfred “Al” Williamson, an appointed member, filed to run for the District D seat being vacated by Reynolds, who has been a board member since 2011. He is opposed by Tamara Rush.

Only one candidate, David Bauer, of Abingdon, filed for the District B seat, encompassing Fallston and Abingdon, which is being vacated by Frisch.

Two candidates filed for the District C seat, encompassing greater Bel Air and Forest Hill, Jim Antal and Kathryn Carmello, the latter previously served as a legislative liaison for HCPS.

The ninth board member, Joseph Hau, who is another governor’s appointee, did not file for an elected seat.

The Harford school board elections are non-partisan, but because no more than two candidates filed for any one seat, the June 26 primary election will have zero impact.

State law says the top two vote-getters in a primary race for school board are nominated and move on to face off in the general election, which this year will decide the final outcome for the four seats for districts C, D, E and F.

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