Until this election year, a Carroll County school board race was a sideshow to a more high-profile contest.
This time, the race is the main attraction.
Elected officials, former school board members and parents from all over the county are calling or writing newspapers with their endorsements.
The buzz is over whether newcomer challengers William M. Bowen Jr. and Jerry L. Brunst will unseat school board incumbents Ann M. Ballard and Joseph D. Mish Jr.
"Usually, a Board of Education race is dull and mundane, and everyone talks about the interest of the children," said state Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson, a Republican representing Carroll and Frederick.
"People kind of yawn. But this one is the exception," he said.
Brunst and Bowen are running a campaign charging the school board with mismanaging a generously funded budget. Bowen, a retired Baltimore social studies teacher, is a former Harford County councilman and has lived in Westminster since 1991. Brunst is a self-employed landscaper.
Mish and Ballard are seeking second terms. Mish, a retired social studies teacher who teaches Bible and English classes at Littlestown Christian Academy in Pennsylvania, is well-known as the board's voice of conservative Christians. Ballard is a Mount Airy homemaker and longtime PTA leader.
Most of the public officials reached by The Sun endorsed Mish or Ballard; a few said they didn't think they should endorse anyone.
"People run on slates and endorse each other all the time in the political arena," said Deborah Povich, executive director of Common Cause of Maryland, a nonpartisan government watchdog group. "Our officials are elected to show leadership and develop public policy. I don't see any problem with them speaking out on public policy matters."
Ferguson would not say for whom he voted -- he already has cast his absentee ballot -- but regardless of who wins, he said, the race has raised a lot of concerns about money.
"This [election] is about the books," Ferguson said, referring to budgets. "There are some things going on with money that have just created a prairie fire."
Westminster Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan said Carroll is getting a lot for its money, so he's endorsing Ballard and Mish.
The incumbents also are being endorsed by mayors Elmer C. Lippy of Manchester, Jonathan S. Herman of Sykesville and Christopher M. Nevin of Hampstead. Mayor Perry L. Jones of Union Bridge said he hadn't made up his mind yet, and Taneytown Mayor W. Robert Flickinger and Mayor Gerald R. Johnson of Mount Airy aren't saying. The Sun was unable to reach New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr.
"Right now, we've got one of the best school systems in the state, and we ought to be shouting that to anyone who can hear," Yowan said. "At the same time, the spending per pupil is in the bottom third."
Yowan said that although Bowen and Brunst talk about taxes being too high and schools consuming too much of that money, he fears that cutting back the school budget could backfire.
"The thing that will help the tax rate in this county is to have business and industry to pay more of the taxes," Yowan said. "Schools are, if not the first thing, then one of the top three things that people look at when they go to relocate their business or industry.
"I don't think I've ever publicly endorsed anyone in the past," Yowan added. "But I think it's so potentially critical this time that I have to speak out."
State Sen. Larry E. Haines, a Carroll Republican, is endorsing Mish because he knows him well, but he is keeping mum on the other three candidates.
Haines praised Mish for his leadership and "applying godly wisdom in his decisions," and virtues including courage, compassion, honesty and faith.
Former school board members John D. Myers and Cheryl A. McFalls endorsed Mish and Ballard, citing their honesty and willingness to listen.
"The thing I know for a fact about Joe and Ann is if you talk to them, you're going to get the truth, even if there is a difference of opinion," McFalls said.
School board members Carolyn L. Scott and C. Scott Stone are supporting Mish and Ballard, but Gary W. Bauer, whose campaign two years ago was supported by Bowen and Brunst, is staying neutral, he said.
County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown was the first of the elected officials to send out a public endorsement -- of Mish and Ballard, even though he has often criticized the current school board. Fellow Commissioner Donald I. Dell joined in supporting the two.
Commissioner Richard T. Yates was ambiguous. He has a Bowen-Brunst sign in his yard but said he wasn't endorsing them. Bowen asked to put the sign up, Yates said, and he consented. Ballard and Mish are welcome to put their signs in the yard, too, he said.
Nevin said that although the school system needs some fine-tuning, he thinks Mish and Ballard have shown "steady, evenhanded leadership."
"It just seems to me the school system has a few scraped-up knees and needs some first aid," Nevin said. "But these guys [Bowen and Brunst] want to apply a tourniquet to the neck."
Some would just rather not endorse.
Del. Joseph M. Getty, a Carroll Republican, said he has never liked endorsing other candidates.
"I got a real queasy feeling about it, like maybe some of the endorsements hurt the candidate they're trying to help," Getty said.
Pub Date: 10/27/96