School Board Candidates Face Off on Budget Issues

Hiring of an analyst, multiyear spending plan among ideas presented


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School board candidates listen to a question from the audience.

Douglas Tallman

School board candidates focused on funding for Montgomery County Public Schools and how to improve the annual budget process during a forum Wednesday night at Kennedy High School in Silver Spring.

About 150 people attended the two-hour forum, which was hosted by the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, Montgomery County Council of PTAs, and the NAACP of Montgomery County.

Jeannette Dixon of Silver Spring, a former White Oak Middle and Paint Branch High principal, suggested the county Board of Education should have its own budget analyst, instead of the analysts provided by MCPS. Dixon is running in the Nov. 8 general election for an at-large seat against two-term incumbent Philip Kauffman of Olney, who called for more collaboration between the school superintendent and the board before the budget process begins. The school superintendent consults with district staff, employee unions and the PTA before proposing a budget to the board.

Shebra Evans, a Silver Spring financial analyst who is active with the PTA, called for multiyear budgeting. Evans is running against Anjali Phukan, a Silver Spring CPA, for an open seat in District 4, which includes Takoma Park, Silver Spring and precincts north of the communities.

Phukan said the school board needed more representation at the county level at every meeting, not only when Montgomery County schools are on the agenda. “Children are all over all the time. So should we when it comes to planning for the budget,” she said.

Another candidate, Brandon Rippeon of Darnestown, a Montgomery County library board member and a financial trustee, called the current budget unsustainable, citing a financial review of MCPS by the state’s Office of Legislative Audit that showed a $900,000 no-bid contract to survey employees and a failure to use route-management software to improve the efficiency of bus routes.

“We have pushed the taxpayer just about as far as we can go and we need to do a much better job with the funds that we have,” Rippeon said.

Rippeon, who ran for the 6th Congressional District seat in 2012 as a Republican, is running against incumbent board member Rebecca Smondrowski of Gaithersburg, a former legislative aide, in District 2, which includes Rockville, Gaithersburg and other mid-county precincts.

Like Kauffman, Smondrowski said the board needed to be part of the “front end” of developing the budget. The board also needs to monitor a program’s return on investment, she said.

Candidates in district races are required to live in the district they hope to serve. Voters, however, get to choose candidates in each race.

Each candidate was asked to choose a program to cut if necessary. Kauffman chose the High School Plus program, which has not provided “the right returns.” High School Plus takes in students who have failed at least one course and may not graduate when expected.

Dixon said the Alternative School program has not been successful; the program provides instruction and services to students who aren’t successful in their home schools. It has more employees than students attending, she said.

Phukan and Rippeon both said they would cut administrative personnel before classroom teachers.

Smondrowski said the board would charge the superintendent with finding cuts. And Evans said the school system at times takes piloted programs to full scale too quickly, and she would examine those.

The two incumbents both said they opposed term limits. Voters on Nov. 8 will decide a change to the county charter that would limit the county executive and members of the County Council to three terms each. The ballot question will not affect school board members.

Kauffman said he is a better school board member each year he serves. Smondrowski said her children would be out of the school system at the end of her second term, so she would not seek a third term if elected to her second term this fall.

Rippeon, Evans and Anjali said they supported term limits. Dixon said she doesn’t necessarily support term limits, but said she would serve only two terms if elected.

The Montgomery County Education Association, the local teachers union, has endorsed Kauffman, Smondrowski and Evans.

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