School board will get two new faces, maybe more

Ervin’s candidacy is latest wrinkle in an intriguing election year for board

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

If Valerie Ervin is elected to the Montgomery County Council this fall, it would mean at least three new faces on the eight-member county school board in 2007.

Ervin, who lives in Silver Spring and represents District 4 on the board, plans to run for the council’s District 5 seat, which is being vacated by Councilman Thomas E. Perez (D) of Takoma Park. Perez is running for state attorney general.

The board is guaranteed to have two new additions, with board President Charles Haughey (At large) of Rockville and Gabriel Romero (Dist. 1) of Montgomery Village both announcing in the past few weeks that they will not stand for re-election to the nonpartisan school board.

Like Ervin, Stephen N. Abrams also has two years remaining on the term on his District 2 board seat. Abrams (R) of Rockville is staying on the board while he runs for state comptroller.

If Ervin or Abrams wins election, a new board would interview candidates and appoint a replacement, said Sharon W. Cox, who as board vice president is the favorite to become president next year.

Several times in the past decade the board appointed midterm replacements for members who resigned their seats, most recently in December 2004 when Nancy Navarro (Dist. 5) of Silver Spring was appointed to replace Henry Lee. Lee resigned four months after being appointed to replace Reginald M. Felton, who left the board after moving out of the district he represented. Navarro has filed for re-election.

‘‘I believe there [would] be a plethora of candidates applying for the appointment,” said Patricia B. O’Neill of Bethesda, who in her eighth year is the board’s longest-standing member and has filed to stand for re-election in District 3 this year. ‘‘Because it’s easier to be appointed than to run in an election. It’s cheaper, too.”

If an appointment is necessary, O’Neill said she expects outside groups to lobby for certain candidates as the PTAs and the County Council did in 2004.

‘‘Given the tension between the board and the council recently it would certainly help if there wasn’t an attempt to pressure the board to appoint a particular person,” said Cox (At large) of Germantown.

The controversy involving construction plans in the Churchill cluster in Potomac and ongoing questions about the council’s oversight authority of the board have strained the relationship between the two bodies. The board and the council each have submitted requests to the state Attorney General’s Office for a legal opinion on the council’s inspector general’s authority to audit the school system.

Inspector General Thomas J. Dagley, whose report on the Seven Locks Elementary School construction project set off the Churchill cluster controversy, plans to conduct an audit of the board’s open meetings practices.

The election of Abrams and Ervin two years ago transformed the board. A board that put up a united front on most issues, resulting in unanimous votes and widespread support for ambitious school reform initiatives pushed by Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, became more contentious, both internally and at times with community members.

Voting patterns have emerged, as well, with Abrams, Cox and Romero making up a bloc that is seen as supportive of Weast and the direction he is moving the school system. In the other bloc, Ervin and Navarro are frequently joined by departing student member Sebastian Johnson, with O’Neill and Haughey acting as swing votes.

With Romero and Haughey departing, and Abrams and Ervin potentially leaving as well, ‘‘you could have a change of 50 percent of the board or more,” O’Neill said.

Other than Cox, ‘‘You’d be looking at a whole rookie team,” she said.

Romero and Haughey’s departures leaves another void, Cox said. To date, John Horan Latham of North Bethesda is the only male candidate to have filed to run for an open board seat. He is running for the at-large seat.

‘‘I’m sorry to see Mr. Romero and Dr. Haughey leave the board,” Cox said. ‘‘They bring something to the board that, considering who’s filed will be the sole province of Mr. Abrams and that is the male perspective.”