School board hopefuls are few

Four make deadline to join Hiltz on ballot in March primary

`I guess we're doing a good thing'

Holt decides not to run

2 seats up for grabs

Carroll County

December 23, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Yesterday morning began with only one Carroll County school board candidate -- incumbent Thomas G. Hiltz -- having filed to run for the two seats up for grabs in a March primary.

By the 9 p.m. filing deadline, a McDaniel College graduate student, a Sykesville man and a Westminster mother who has become a fixture at school board meetings had entered the race, ensuring an uncontested primary but a competitive general election.

Besides Hiltz, 44, a Naval Reserves commander who works for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, candidates on the November ballot will be David Stysley, 24, chairman of the county's Green Party who is studying human resources at McDaniel College; Gary G. Weishaar of Sykesville; and Cynthia L. Foley, 47, of Westminster who turned in her candidacy paperwork 15 minutes before the deadline.

Absent among the candidate filings was Susan G. Holt, the outspoken, reform-minded board member who had a reputation for taking school officials to task and who won three years ago in a field of 24 candidates. The former school board president said she wanted to devote her time to family and work.

With only four candidates for two seats in the nonpartisan race, all four contenders will advance to the general election.

The dearth of candidates contrasts sharply with the 2000 election, when two dozen people battled for two seats on the five-member panel. During that campaign, the Carroll County school system was embroiled in multimillion-dollar lawsuits and a county grand jury investigation into bungled school construction projects and the Board of Education's management style.

Two years later, with a new superintendent at the helm, only seven candidates ran for three seats in a calmer race that revolved around more commonplace education issues -- curriculum, school funding and new federal and state accountability measures.

The even more pronounced lack of candidates in this cycle, school board members said, signals the community's approval of the job they're doing.

"I guess we're doing a good thing," Holt said. "Everyone's happy."

Stysley, who majored in political science at what was then Western Maryland College and worked as campaign manager for George W. Murphy III in the Green Party candidate's unsuccessful bid for commissioner last year, said he has always been interested in politics. The school board race, he said, could serve as an entry into local politics.

"Education is always an important issue," he said, "and I think I could have something to contribute."

Foley, who has three children in Carroll County public schools and one in college, said her interest in running was piqued when she learned that Holt might not seek a second term.

"I have spent the last two years very much involved in keeping track of the school system and ... I was concerned with who would take her place," Foley said. "She asks a lot of the same questions that I ask myself when I'm sitting in the audience at board meetings."

Weishaar did not respond to telephone messages last night.

For Holt, whose eldest son is less than four years from college, the decision not to run for re-election revolved around money and time.

"The Board of Education has been very good, and I think I've been very successful and made a positive change for the school system, but being on the board is a job," she said.

"Now, I think I need to go back to my original plan, which is to be able to concentrate on my business ... to be sure that I, too, am bringing in an income," said Holt, who runs a portrait and wedding photography business. "My kids and my husband need me to be as strong of an advocate for them and for the family as I am for everyone else."

The deadline capped an odd day for those interested in the candidate filings.

Elections board employees answered calls all day from people inquiring whether a second person had filed to run for school board.

Parent and teachers union activists tried to recruit potential candidates, who, in turn, were forced to consider -- and quickly -- whether they could juggle the duties of an elected office with their regular lives.

For a brief time yesterday afternoon, school board President C. Scott Stone was contemplating the possibility that he and his fellow board members might have to find their own colleague to round out the five-member panel if last night's deadline passed with only Hiltz on the ballot.

Although Patricia Matsko, director of the Carroll County elections board, had said yesterday morning that the Carroll school board would be responsible for appointing someone to fill holes left by too few people running for the posts, a state elections board official said that was not the case. Ross Goldstein, director of Maryland's candidacy and campaign finance division, said that shortages of school board candidates are treated as vacancies, which, in Carroll County, are filled by the governor.

Nevertheless, Stone, was so interested in the filing scenario that he dropped by the county elections board office yesterday to wait out the last half hour before the 9 p.m. deadline.

"I had some time, and I didn't know how it would unfold," he said. "I wanted to know tonight instead of waiting until morning to read the paper."

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