The Frederick County Republican Central Committee is helping candidates in a nonpartisan race in an effort to elect more fiscal conservatives to the Board of Education.
A slate card passed out at county carnivals lists all Republican candidates in 2012, including Tony Chmelik and Colleen Cusimano, both of whom are seeking election to the nonpartisan school board.
The card was authorized by the county Republican Central Committee, a nine-member board elected every four years whose role is to promote its party and agenda.
At Walkersville’s carnival this past week, Republicans refused to allow school board candidate Joy Schaefer to put her campaign materials on its table. Historically, nonpartisan candidates have been given access to both Democratic and Republican tables and tents at carnivals and fairs.
Frederick County Commissioner Billy Shreve (R) said the new policy will hold for any Democrats running for the school board.
“Our role is to further the Republican cause. This is a break from the past because there’s a new sheriff in town ... the central committee has a lot of new people with new ideas,” Shreve said.
School board candidates are not listed by party on the ballot in any Maryland jurisdiction. Six candidates are vying for three seats on the seven-member board, which serves four-year terms.
“Now we have Brad [Young], Jimmy [Reeder] and April [Miller] all fiscally conservative. With two more, we’d have the majority of the board for the first time ever,” said Shreve, who also is a central committee member.
Young, brother of Frederick County commissioners President Blaine R. Young (R), is a registered Democrat, but campaigned in 2010 on tightening the budget. Since he was first elected to the school board, Young said funding for retirement benefits has increased by $28 million and is 70 percent funded.
“Being a Democrat hasn’t kept me from the doing the job that needed to be done,” Young said. “Whether you are a Democrat or Republican shouldn’t matter. It’s about making sound decisions to put the budget in better shape.”
But others see the move to identify candidates by party in a nonpartisan race as leveling the playing field. Although Republican Central Committee Chairman Stephen Gottlieb said he thinks the school board race should be nonpartisan, he notes candidates whose philosophies lean more to the left are endorsed more often by the teachers union.
Adding school board candidates to the Republican slate is more about the candidates’ views on fiscal responsibility than party loyalty, he said.
The school budget represents 52 percent of the county’s budget.
“I would support whoever best showed the Republican ideals of fiscal responsibility. The fact that they are registered Republicans certainly helps,” Gottlieb said.
Chmelik agrees those who more closely align with democratic ideals get the nod from the teachers union, while Republicans have a tougher time getting their names out to voters.
“We are behind the 8-ball when it comes to raising money,” he said.
Cusimano said both parties always have “sort of” supported school board candidates, but haven’t been organized about it.
“We’re trying to be more straightforward now because people are recognizing how much of the budget is handed over to our school system,” she said.
Still, some others, such as former board member Dr. Michael Schaden, object to publicly politicizing the school board race.
Schaden, a Republican who served two terms, said he could not determine his colleagues’ party affiliations based on what they said at board meetings, and he likes it that way.
“It’s so much more important to have a qualified person than to have someone who is committed to a particular political doctrine,” he said. “Right now, we are swamped with people from the left and people on the right; there is not a lot of representation from the middle .... It’s a shame that political parties feel a need to polarize things even more than they are now.”
To Schafer, education should be politically blind because it is critical for everyone. She fears good policymaking will take a back seat to partisan ideology.
“We can’t be either or. We have to come together.... We are talking about students’ futures, and I am not going to play politics with that,” Schaefer said.