The county's school board candidates faced off last night in North Carroll, hoping to distinguish themselves on local concerns such as the postponed addition for Spring Garden Elementary and more universal education issues such as reducing class sizes and budget accountability.
Speaking to an audience of 40 - which included organizers, a young boy playing a video game and two newspaper reporters - candidates Lisa Breslin, Thomas G. Hiltz, Susan Holt and Stephen M. Nevin had three minutes to introduce themselves before taking turns answering eight questions written by the PTAs and PTOs of North Carroll High, North Carroll and Shiloh middle schools, and Hampstead, Spring Garden and Manchester elementary schools.
The four candidates are vying for two seats on the five-member board. being vacated by longtime members who are not seeking re-election.
Three of the four candidates said they would support an addition for Spring Garden Elementary that expands the cafeteria and other infrastructure. A $1.25 million project to only add six classrooms was put on hold in May when Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin - the brother of candidate Nevin - refused to sign off on the plans.
Scheduled for completion next spring, the addition was bumped down the school system's construction schedule until 2004 to give staff time to re-evaluate the project and estimate the cost of a more extensive expansion.
Only Stephen Nevin said he would not support either project.
"It's not going to meet the needs of the community," he said. "And unless the community stands up and says, `We definitely want this addition,' I don't think we should do it at all."
Asked how she would reduce class sizes - a perennial concern - Holt said she would first look to the central office and "squeeze administration to hire more teachers. ... If your child kept wasting money, would you keep giving them more?"
Taking a page from last week's school board work session on the 2001-2002 school calendar, Breslin said she would make sure to include money to allow teachers to plan and brainstorm as a group. She also said she would support mentoring programs, meaningful professional development and school board decisions that are "consistent, responsible decisions so [teachers] have faith in the system they're working for."
Asked whether he would take a stand against the county commissioners "in the best interest of the children," Hiltz said he believes in a more cooperative leadership style.
"It's not pounding your fists and demanding things or being confrontational," he said. "It's more than that. It's bringing people together and helping them make informed decisions. ... I will go toe to toe with the commissioners if I have to, but I would much rather stand with the commissioners than against them."
As the Nov. 7 election approaches, the school board race has heated up.
Nevin said last night he has enjoyed the candidate forums because of the questions he has not had to answer.
"No one has had to ask me, `Steve, can you make the time commitment?'" he said - an apparent jab at Hiltz who was asked at a prior forum whether his full-time job with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and family and Navy Reserve commitments would leave him time to serve on the school board.(Hiltz said then that he would have the time, noting his attendance at 40 planning commission meetings one year when he was a member.)
Breslin, 40, a Westminster resident, is a part-time English lecturer at Western Maryland College, a former columnist for The Sun and a former reporter at the Carroll County Times.
Hiltz, who turned 41 yesterday and brought birthday cake for forum attendees, is a Naval Academy graduate, nuclear engineer and former chairman of the county planning commission. He lives in Woodbine.
Holt, 39, a Sykesville resident, is a photographer and business owner.
Nevin, 39, is a self-employed tax accountant who lives in Finksburg. Among the four candidates, he is the only one to have attended Carroll County public schools. He graduated from Westminster High.
Last night's forum was one of about a dozen such gatherings organized by local civic groups and area PTAs and PTOs. The next will be a 7 p.m. debate Monday at the Board of Education building in Westminster. That debate is sponsored by the Carroll County Council of PTAs.