2021 | Schools

No timeline yet to fill vacant Montgomery County school board seat

Board must appoint someone to finish Pat O’Neill’s term

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Still grieving the death of a colleague, Montgomery County school board members do not yet have a timeline for filling the vacant seat.

Pat O’Neill, the longest serving board member in school district history, died on Sept. 15, midway through her sixth term.

About a year remains in the four-year term, and it is up to the remaining members of the board to appoint someone to fill the seat until the next election.

The school board is headed into a busy season, with capital budget deliberations set to begin next month and operating budget discussions following in the spring. The board oversees the state’s largest school district as it reopens its 209 schools after extended closures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a text message to Bethesda Beat this week, board President Brenda Wolff said board members were “devastated” by O’Neill’s death and have not yet had an opportunity to discuss the process.

According to the school board handbook, in the event of the death of a member, the remaining members will “select a qualified individual to fill the vacancy.” The person must reside in the same district and be a registered voter in Montgomery County. The person will serve the remainder of O’Neill’s term.

Traditionally, the handbook says, the process begins with the school board soliciting applications from people interested in filling the vacancy.

Candidates are then interviewed by the school board during a closed session meeting. The candidate who receives the majority vote of the remaining members is appointed to fill the vacant seat, the handbook says.

O’Neill’s term was set to end in 2022. She had not said publicly if she planned to run for re-election.

During a recent school board meeting, Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight said she believes O’Neill would have run again, because “she would have wanted to continue this work.”

As of Friday afternoon, nobody had filed for any of the open school board seats — O’Neill’s District 3 seat, Wolff’s District 5 seat, Karla Silvestre’s at-large seat, and Judy Docca’s District 1 seat.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com