Women candidates unite for school board, council harmony

Group pledges cooperation but vows no campaign promises or election slate

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A group of Montgomery County school board and County Council candidates got together recently formally pledged collaboration between the two groups on certain budget and legislative priorities, including after-school and child care.

But the five women were quick to say that the pact is not politically motivated and does not constitute a slate for the coming election.

The group, headed by County Councilwoman Marilyn J. Praisner (D-Dist. 4) of Calverton, is calling for a buddy system between board and council members, collaboration on state legislative priorities, and establishment of cross-agency budgets for after-school and child care programs. The women signed a pledge at a June 26 news conference at the Children’s Resource Center in Rockville.

All of the women have backgrounds in education or have worked with children. Joining Praisner are school board member Nancy Navarro (Dist. 5) of Silver Spring, school board candidate and former principal Judy Docca and County Council candidates Valerie Ervin (D) and Duchy Trachtenberg (D). Ervin sits on the county school board, representing District 4, and Trachtenberg is a health care professional who specializes in adolescent addiction.

Praisner, who was on the school board eight years before moving to the County Council, said the group formalized its collaboration after a recent candidates forum.

‘‘We were sitting together and someone mentioned that this was a good group,” she said. ‘‘Men were not deliberately left out; it just happened that only women were at the table.”

Although all of the women are running for election this year, the document they signed specifically states that the news conference and resultant pledge are neither endorsements nor a candidate slate.

In fact, Praisner said she was disappointed that another newspaper identified the women as a Democratic group of candidates because party affiliation does not play a role in the nonpartisan school board races.

But if not politically motivated, why the need for a formal agreement? Public opinion, contentious issues over the past year and growing budgets necessitated the document, the women said.

‘‘There was quite a bit of negative characterization of the board and County Council that resulted from the Seven Locks [school relocation] issue,” Navarro said. ‘‘We thought that since there was this perception out there, why not make a statement that this is something the board and council will take seriously?”

Earlier this year tensions between the two bodies became strained over plans for the elementary school in the Potomac area. Council members accused the school board and school system administrators of misleading them after an inspector general’s report criticized how the school board made its decision on the school. Some school board members questioned the need for council oversight and the legitimacy of the inspector general’s audit.

‘‘I just think there’s an expectation that there’d be closer collaboration,” Ervin said, adding that with items such as Seven Locks, ‘‘it appears there could have been more effort to have openness between the two bodies.”

But County Councilman Michael L. Subin, who has headed the council’s Education Committee for almost 20 years, said this type of formal agreement is unwarranted.

‘‘I think Seven Locks ended up being the poster child for problems [between the school board and council] ... but I don’t think pacts are necessary,” said Subin (D-At large) of Gaithersburg. ‘‘I’m prepared to work together without a pact in place.”

Subin said he has not been asked to sign the women’s pact.

‘‘I welcome anybody on board who is going to agree with my earlier call for greater civility between governmental agencies,” he said.

Praisner said the agreement is not exclusive to the five women, and any candidate or sitting council and school board members is welcome to join the collaboration.

Staff Writer Margie Hyslop contributed to this report.