Barclay selected for school board vacancy

Two members accuse teachers union of influencing selection process

Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2006

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Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
PTA advocate Christopher S. Barclay of Takoma Park will replace Valerie Ervin in District 4. He said his top priority is the achievement gap.

Christopher S. Barclay, a PTA advocate and father of three from Takoma Park, is the county school board’s choice to fill the District 4 vacancy left by Valerie Ervin’s election to the County Council.

Two board members said the decision of their colleagues to vote for Barclay was prejudiced by lobbying from the county teachers union.

Barclay, 45, received votes from five of seven board members on the first ballot following interviews with five finalists on Saturday in Rockville. He was sworn in Monday by Clerk of Court Loretta E. Knight in her Rockville office.

Stephen N. Abrams (Dist. 2) of Rockville and Sharon W. Cox (At large) of Germantown voted for Victor B. Salazar of Silver Spring, vice president of legislation for the county council of PTAs.

Abrams and Cox both said their colleagues had already made up their minds about who they were going to vote for before hearing from the five finalists, who had been chosen from 20 applicants, one of whom was deemed ineligible.

In comments before the vote, Abrams and Cox said the county teachers union influenced the process.

‘‘One candidate has had a mighty advocate in MCEA, even prior to Ms. Ervin filing for candidacy for the County Council,” Cox said. ‘‘That kind of influence is a concern for me, for the unions to have influence on the appointment and placement of a person on the board.”

Neither Cox nor Abrams, neither of whom has ever received the union’s endorsement, received calls from the teachers union. But each said they had heard their colleagues had.

Cox said she was told by board member Patricia B. O’Neill that O’Neill received a call from Jon Gerson, the union’s community outreach director. Gerson ‘‘had been pushing” for Barclay since before Ervin filed to run for the County Council, Cox said.

‘‘In an appointment process, it’s over the top,” she said.

Gerson confirmed that he had spoken with board members, but referred questions to union President Bonnie Cullison.

Cullison said that neither she nor Gerson called board members to lobby for a particular candidate. ‘‘It’s inappropriate for [Gerson] to do that because we don’t have a process for endorsing [an appointee],” she said.

Barclay’s name could have easily come up in conversations over the past two years, she said, adding that Barclay and Ervin talked to her before the 2004 election when each was considering a run for the District 4 seat. ‘‘Lots of people have been having a conversation about Chris,” Cullison said. ‘‘I have been having a conversation about Chris.”

But those conversations never went so far as to lobby board members, she said. ‘‘I could lose my credibility with my members in terms of the political process if we were out there lobbying on behalf of a candidate who has not gone through our process.”

Cullison said she met with Barclay and fellow finalist Beth A. Wong, as well as applicants Kermit V. Burnett and Michael G. Pauls Sr. She was contacted by Vivian Scretchen, but the meeting never took place after Scretchen was not selected as a finalist.

O’Neill (Dist. 3) of Bethesda confirmed that she received a call from a union representative over the summer discussing potential candidates. She would not say who contacted her, but said the phone call was nothing unusual. ‘‘I’m already hearing people being speculated about for 2008,” she said. ‘‘There’s a perpetual political conversation related to the board.”

Barclay, a project manger for Verizon who was the Blair cluster coordinator from 2003 until earlier this year, participated in creation of the Downcounty Consortium, which allows students from five clusters to attend whichever of five high schools offering specialty programs that interests them. He has been a member of four principal selection committees and as a NAACP Parents Council representative.

‘‘As an African-American parent with three children in the school system, obviously the achievement gap is the thing that is most important to me,” Barclay told board members. ‘‘What’s key is figuring out how are we going to serve all of the children in this system.”

The school system has to be creative in addressing the gap in academic performance that exists between some African-American and Hispanic students and their white and Asian-American peers, he said, citing the school system’s early childhood and reading initiatives.

‘‘Let’s figure out what’s worked,” Barclay said. ‘‘Let’s figure out what we need to do to improve on them.”

Middle school reform and the High School Assessments, which students must pass in order to graduate beginning in 2009, are also areas where the board needs to focus, Barclay said.

Abrams, who made his first appearance at a board meeting on Saturday since being accused of second-degree assault in an incident outside a Republican Party meeting last month, said that while he thinks Barclay ‘‘has the potential of doing a great job,” he did not vote for him because of ‘‘extraneous factors.”

Barclay beat out Salazar and three other PTA advocates — Alies Muskin, Beth A. Wong and Sheldon Fishman, who ran unsuccessfully against Ervin in 2004.

‘‘That was the fix that was in,” Abrams said after Barclay’s election. ‘‘The union ordained it. The lemmings marched to it.”

Board member Nancy Navarro (Dist. 5) of Silver Spring dismissed Abrams’ claims. ‘‘I was never contacted by MCEA and told this is who you must vote for,” she said.

Barclay said he never thought his selection was a foregone conclusion. After applying for the board seat last month, Barclay said, talked to as many people and organizations as possible, including the teachers union.

‘‘I’m not beholden to anyone,” Barclay said in an interview. ‘‘And I don’t mean that to be arrogant. I will try to represent what’s best and do what’s best for the children without any preconceived notions.”