On November 8, Montgomery County citizens will vote for three of the seven seats on the Montgomery County Board of Education, including one at-large seat. The Board’s seven seats consist of two members elected at-large and five members elected by district. Board of Education members serve four-year terms.
After a contested primary with five candidates for the at-large seat, the two receiving the most votes advanced to the general election. Jeanette Dixon, a graduate of Loyola University with a degree in Education and a former principal at White Oak Middle School and Paint Branch High School, earned the most votes in the primary.
Following Dixon in votes was incumbent Philip Kauffman, a retired attorney who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Economics and received his law degree from the University of Maryland. Kauffman has served on the Board of Education since 2008. Over the past twelve months, both candidates have enthusiastically campaigned for the coveted honor of sitting on the board for the next four years.
There is a clear contrast in the policies emphasized by Kauffman and Dixon’s campaigns.
Kauffman hopes to push the state for more funding for the county’s educational budget to keep up with the county’s growing population and need for more classrooms and schools. However, he also emphasizes the need to conserve funds in order to ensure that allocations do not go to waste. Kauffman urges for fiscal transparency, so that the community is informed on where the county’s money is going and why.
Dixon wants to eliminate unnecessary spending and use that money to fund a new technology initiative that she considers an investment in the future of our county. She hopes that this new program will prepare students for the workforce of the 21st century. Dixon also wishes to reduce class size, limit testing, and hire more counselors.
Both candidates consider the growing disparity in educational success between low-income students and students of higher socioeconomic backgrounds – the achievement gap – to be a major issue.
From her years of experience in education, Dixon is familiar with the challenges facing the county’s majority-minority, high-poverty schools. She has therefore proposed several educational reform policies, such as allowing students to attend any high school in the county regardless of where they live. Dixon also urges increasing funding of schools in low-income areas in an attempt to even out the performance levels of the different county districts.
Similarly, Kauffman advocates for equitable funding of all schools in the county. He also suggests reforming standardized testing so that kids in under-funded schools who tend to perform lower on these tests can better display their understanding of the material.
Kauffman was also part of a team that successfully advocated for a change in the county’s testing requirements to make them more effective and relevant. That effort eventually led to the elimination of semester exams and the replacement of those exams with required quarterly assessments (RQAs), which are being implemented for the first time this school year.
Junior Christian Eisenbrey of Walter Johnson High School is in favor of Kauffman’s efforts and the elimination of semester exams. “I don’t think that one test should have such a large impact on your semester grade,” he said. “[However, I fear that] colleges will see the MCPS grades as inflated and not admit as many MCPS students.”
Although Kauffman is the incumbent, Dixon’s criticisms of homeschooling and alternative school options have resonated with some Montgomery County residents. According to Bethesda Magazine, Dixon disapproves of the fact that alternative school programs have more employees than students. She has promised to reform the county’s homeschooling programs and alternative school options. “I don’t want my tax dollars being wasted by ineffective government homeschooling programs,” said Montgomery County resident Lori Gersten.
Kauffman is currently leading Dixon in the endorsement race with key support from the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) and The Washington Post, according to Ballotpedia. However, Dixon received a greater portion of the vote in the primary election, beating Kauffman by 3.5%.
Whoever wins the at-large bid for Montgomery County Board of Education on November 8 will have a significant responsibility. Over the next four years, issues such as the education budget, the achievement gap, and the increasing concern of school overcrowding will be brought into the spotlight, and hard decisions will have to be made. The person to fill this seat will guide our county through the difficult times to come.
Article by MoCo Student staff writer David Gordon of Walter Johnson High School