ONE TAKOMA: Dixon and Evans for school board; NO on term limits

Board of Education candidates Shebra Evans and Jeanette Dixon

IMAGE: Montgomery County Board of Education candidates Shebra Evans and Jeanette Dixon. (Campaign photos.)


Down-ballot electoral choices matter — in 2016, your votes on state and county questions and for school board candidates.

This year, Montgomery County voters will choose three of eight Board of Education (BOE) representatives and decide ballot questions that include term limits for county elected officials. Voters state-wide will decide whether to modify the procedure for filling state-office vacancies.

My recommendations:

Jeanette Dixon for Board of Education, At-large
Rebecca Smondrowski for Board of Education, District 2
Shebra Evans for Board of Education, District 4
For on Question 1 (state vacancy appointments)
For on Question A (special election for county executive vacancy)
Against on Question B (term limits for county offices)
For on Question C (partial-term definition for county offices)

I offer no recommendation on the ballot’s judicial races. The 2016 federal races require one sentence: I support Democrats Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine for President and Vice President; Chris Van Hollen for U.S. Senate; and Jamie Raskin for U.S. House of Representatives, Maryland District 8.

Board of Education

Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) are under intense pressure to close achievement and opportunity gaps while adding capacity to respond to growth in student enrollment. The system now serves more than 159 thousand students, up 21,497 since 2007, according to statistics reported in Bethesda magazine.

Disparities in student accomplishments and resources are the result of wide differences in family economic and social circumstances. Disparities are linked to race, ethnicity, neighborhood, parent educational attainment, and language skills. Yet many classrooms and schools are overcrowded, and some facilities are substandard. The need is most intense for county children who face the greatest challenges. We aspire to equity, but we have fallen short.

Every school board member and every candidate talks about these issues and uses words such as transparency, accountability, budgeting control, and parent engagement. Differences among candidates lie elsewhere, so my 2016 electoral choices reflect instead an evaluation of the candidates’ school involvement, energy, independence, listening and communications skills, and political and diplomatic abilities. Which candidates will make the most convincing case for additional state funding? Which will prioritize inclusion and best represent students who most need a BOE advocate? Which will respect teacher voices and collaborate with colleagues and MCPS administrators to devise sensible solutions?

The District 4 school board race features two newcomers who seek to replace retiring incumbent Chris Barclay. Shebra Evans communicates strong understanding of achievement and opportunity disparities and has put significant time and effort into understanding community voices and building relationships. Her opponent Anjali Reed Phukan offers facile, feel-good reliance on technology and parent-child programming as solutions to overcrowding and disparities, solutions most likely to work for those who least need them. I endorse Shebra Evans.

I support Jeanette Dixon for Board of Education, At-large. Dixon will bring an educator’s perspective to the board. She retired in 2013, after 11 years as principal at Paint Branch High School, with a keen understanding of east county and minority needs. Dixon’s combination of knowledge, conviction, independence, outspokenness, and personal warmth adds up to a compelling candidate. My only reservation, based on a house-party encounter, is an impression that she might have more to learn about localized needs — in Takoma Park, Silver Spring, and, I’d suspect, in other parts of the county where she doesn’t have direct experience — than she realizes. Yet the promise is there, and so is my endorsement.

For another perspective on the At-large race, please consult activist Dan Reed’s March 2016 essay, Why Montgomery County school board is the race to watch in 2016. And you may find myMCMedia 2016 MCPS Board of Education General Election candidate videos of value.

I endorse incumbent Rebecca Smondrowski as the better choice for BOE District 2, without comment.

Ballot Questions

Ballot Question 1 would modify the Maryland Constitution to require a special election for Attorney General or Comptroller, should a vacancy occur early in a four-year term, and to require the Governor to appoint a member of the former official’s political party, or from a list provided by that party, otherwise. Direct elections to fill vacancies makes sense, as does preservation of the voters’ previous party choice. I recommend a For vote on Question 1.

Questions A, B, and C are specific to Montgomery County.

Question A would allow the County Council to schedule a special election to fill a County Executive mid-term vacancy. I am For Question A.

Question B puts forward a three-term limit for County Council and County Executive offices. If it passes, voters will lose the right to choose preferred candidates. I recommend a vote Against Question B and For Question C, which, should term limits pass, would not count office occupancy of less than two years as a term.

Vote Early

Montgomery County has eight days of early voting. Visit any of the ten county voting centers — they’re listed online and include the Silver Spring Civic Building — October 27 to November 3, 8am – 8pm.

If you miss early voting, make sure to head to the polls on November 8, 7 am to 8 pm. An absentee ballot is also an option, if you can’t make it to a polling place for early voting or on Election Day. Happy voting!

About the Author

Seth Grimes
Seth Grimes is a twenty-one year Montgomery County resident. He served on the Takoma Park City Council from 2011 to 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @Seth4MC.