2016 | Schools

Montgomery County Teachers’ Union Won’t Make Endorsement In Five-Way Board of Education Primary

MCEA endorsed incumbent Phil Kauffman in 2012 primary and made endorsements in busy 2014 primary season

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Sebastian Johnson talks with an attendee at Monday's Board of Education candidates' forum as Phil Kauffman (right) looks on

Aaron Kraut

The 12,000-member Montgomery County teachers’ union that distributes a widely known “apple ballot” endorsement list won’t back any of the five candidates running in next month’s primary for an at-large seat on the county’s Board of Education.

Tom Israel, executive director of the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), confirmed the union’s representative assembly of about 130 members discussed a possible endorsement Wednesday night. The MCEA requires at least a 58 percent majority vote for any one candidate in order to provide that candidate with an endorsement.

The non-endorsement could be seen as a setback for incumbent Phil Kauffman, the two-term at-large member from Olney who garnered the MCEA’s endorsement in his 2012 primary run.

Kauffman is running against former student member of the board Sebastian Johnson, retired Paint Branch High School Principal Jeanette Dixon, former Washington, D.C., education official Gwendolyn Kimbrough and retired teacher Mike Ibanez.

The top two vote-getters in April’s primary will move on to the November general election. The candidates met for their first forum of the primary season Monday night.

Kauffman told Bethesda Beat on Thursday he wasn’t surprised by the news of the non-endorsement, in part because there is just one school board race in this year’s primary.

Both of the other two school board races, for the District 2 and 4 seats, involve only two candidates, meaning those candidates will automatically face off in the November general election. Board of Education elections are nonpartisan.

“What they indicated to me is they’ll be making decisions in the general [election],” Kauffman said. “I think [the campaign] is going fine. I have received a lot of endorsements.”

Kauffman recently got the endorsement of the Montgomery County Public Schools Retirees Association and has the backing of three dozen local elected officials, including County Executive Ike Leggett, County Council Education Committee Chairman Craig Rice and council members Sidney Katz and Hans Riemer.

Johnson, a 27-year-old Takoma Park resident, was endorsed by council members George Leventhal and Nancy Navarro, who was on the board when Johnson was the student member for the 2005-2006 school year.

“We were a little surprised initially because they had endorsed my incumbent competitor two elections in a row now,” Johnson said of his reaction to the non-endorsement news. “I think it means they are keeping an open mind and they are acknowledging that we need a new face on the board.”

In the 2008 primary, the MCEA endorsed one of Kauffman’s opponents, Alies Muskin, who wasn’t one of the top two vote-getters in the primary. Kauffman went on to win 67 percent of the vote in the general election to defeat Tommy Le.

A source with knowledge of the deliberations Wednesday night said MCEA member representatives were concerned about making an endorsement as the current Board of Education and County Council wrangle over the school system’s operating budget for the next school year.

Board members are urging Leggett and the council to fully fund their $2.45 billion request. But, as has often been the case in recent years of tight budgets, it appears unlikely the county will fully fund the request and fund the school system above the minimum required by the state’s maintenance of effort law.

MCEA members pass out their endorsement list, which is actually trademarked as the apple ballot, at polling places. It has long been considered an influential endorsement, though it doesn’t guarantee victory.

The MCEA endorsed Shebra Evans in the 2014 primary for the board’s other at-large seat. Evans moved on to the general election but ended up losing to Jill Ortman-Fouse. Evans is now running for the District 4 seat being vacated by Chris Barclay in November against challenger Anjali Reed Phukan.

Incumbent District 2 board member Rebecca Smondrowski is running for re-election against challenger Brandon Orman Rippeon. All voters in the county can vote in races for at-large and district seats.