Benzil tapped for Maryland school board Dentist may be first from Carroll to join state agency

Appointed by governor

Active Democrat vocally supported Glendening in 1994

March 03, 1996|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

The governor has nominated Westminster dentist Philip Benzil for a seat on the State Board of Education, a position no Carroll resident has held in at least 33 years.

Dr. Benzil, 62, is an active Carroll Democrat who was a local school board member from 1968 to 1982. His appointment goes before the Senate Executive Nominating Committee March 18.

"I can't imagine I'm going to operate narrowly in the interest of Carroll County, but I'm in tune with the perspective" in the county, Dr. Benzil said. "I've already scheduled a meeting with [county] Superintendent Brian Lockard to just get an idea from him of the issues."

State Sen. Larry Haines of Carroll, the ranking Republican member of the nominating committee, endorsed Dr. Benzil and said he expects the approval to be unanimous.

Dr. Benzil's appointment would mean yet another county resident placed in a key statewide role. Last month, Richard N. Dixon, a Carroll legislator, was elected state treasurer by fellow lawmakers.

"The governor felt very strongly that having a candidate who brought that local school board experience to the state was very important," said Hannah Byron, secretary of appointments for Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

"And I think it's probably been a while since anyone from Carroll County has been appointed to the board," Ms. Byron said.

Several people in state offices were unable to find any trace of a Carroll County resident's having served on the board since its inception in 1916, although records from before 1963 were too cumbersome to check thoroughly, they said.

"I think, still, 30 years is a pretty large block of time," Ms. Byron said.

The nominee from conservative and mostly Christian Carroll described himself as "a Jewish guy who is a reasonably liberal Democrat."

But that is no more unusual, he said, than the fact that the state's first black treasurer, Mr. Dixon, comes from a county with one of the smallest proportions of blacks -- 2 percent -- in the state.

Dr. Benzil and Mr. Haines may be on opposite ends of the political spectrum, but the legislator enthusiastically supports the nominee.

"Oh, yes, I'm going to endorse Dr. Benzil," Mr. Haines said. "I think he's qualified for the position."

Mr. Haines said the increasing number of statewide appointments from Carroll and an active legislative delegation will benefit county residents.

In addition to Mr. Dixon and Dr. Benzil, another key player statewide is Carroll school board member Carolyn Scott, who is president this year of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.

Mr. Dixon is one of three members -- the others are the governor and the state comptroller -- of the state Board of Public Works, which, among other things, decides how much money goes toward school construction and where it goes. Those are pressing issues in fast-growing Carroll.

As the state takes a stronger role in setting standards for local schools -- and in some cases threatening to take them over when they don't measure up -- the Board of Education is an influential body.

The state superintendent of schools, Nancy S. Grasmick, answers directly to the 12-member Board of Education. She and her staff are active in shaping local schools through such things as tests intended to influence the way teachers teach and tests that students may have to pass to get their high school diplomas.

Dr. Benzil said he will have time to devote to the board, which meets for at least two full days at the end of each month, because he is close to retirement.

Dr. Benzil and his wife, Naomi, have been active in many Carroll County organizations. They have three grown daughters, one of whom is mentally disabled. The Benzils were active in the Association for Retarded Citizens and co-founded the county's sheltered workshop.

Mrs. Benzil has been active in the League of Women Voters, and Dr. Benzil has been a member of the Democratic Central Committee and was a vocal supporter of Mr. Glendening during the 1994 campaign.

Shortly after the election, the Benzils were asked to submit their resumes for consideration in appointments.

"This is the one that's probably most up my alley," Dr. Benzil said.

Although he didn't specify it this time, the state school board position was one Dr. Benzil indicated an interest in a decade ago, when Harry Hughes was governor.

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