Three school board members file for reelection in Montgomery County

Six months before the June primary, three of four school board members up for reelection in Montgomery County have filed with the state elections board to seek another term.

Patricia O’Neill, 63, the longest-serving member, announced Monday that she will run for a fifth term. O’Neill’s district includes Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Potomac, although board members are elected by voters countywide.

A Bethesda resident, O’Neill was a longtime PTA leader who joined the board in 1998 and has served as president and vice president four times. She has two grown children and grew up in Montgomery schools, graduating from Walter Johnson High School.

On Monday, O’Neill cited the district’s explosive growth as a top issue. Montgomery’s student enrollment is up by nearly 14,000 students since 2007. Another 11,000 students are projected to enroll during the next six years.

“It really requires strategic planning,” she said. “We’re booming from Clarksburg to Silver Spring, and we know we’re going to have more kids as the years go by, so where are we going to put them?”

O’Neill’s announcement follows candidacy filings from two other board members. In all, four seats are open on the eight-member board — the policymaking body that is responsible for Montgomery’s 202 schools and 151,000 students.

Board member Michael A. Durso, 70, who made his plans to seek reelection public in August, joined the board in 2010 after retiring from a 44-year career as an educator, most recently as principal of Springbrook High School in Silver Spring.

Durso, a resident of Silver Spring and father of four grown children, previously was principal at Yorktown High School in Arlington and Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington. His district includes parts of Silver Spring, Olney and Rockville.

Durso, too, cited the district’s growth as a challenge, saying Montgomery counts 50,000 students in its free lunch program, an indicator of poverty.

“I think the biggest issue for us in Montgomery County is to be able to keep up the quality of education for all of our students as we become more diverse and as we continue to grow at a pace of about 2,500 students a year,” Durso said.

Board member Judy Docca, 74, who filed her bid for another term in July, also comes to the position after a long career as an educator. Most recently, she was an assistant principal at Montgomery Blair High School and principal at Argyle Middle School.

A resident of Montgomery Village and mother of a grown son, Docca has been an officer and education chair of the county branch of the NAACP. Her district includes upcounty areas such as Poolesville, Clarksburg and Damascus.

She said she is focused on the achievement gap that separates white and Asian students from black and Hispanic students. There are disparities in test scores, she said, and in discipline.

“I’m still concerned about African American and Latino kids,” she said. “They’re 50 percent of the students and a large number of them are not doing that well.”

Board member Shirley Brandman, whose at-large seat also opens in 2014, is not running again. In a statement released by the school system Tuesday, she said: “I’ve been honored to serve on the Board of Education for the past seven years, and I will not be seeking re-election. It had always been my intention to serve two terms, as this is a natural transition point for me and my family, with my youngest son graduating from high school in June. As a family, we are all moving on to the next phase of our life.”

The annual salary for board members is presently $18,500, which will increase to $25,000 for the next elected board. The board’s president earns $4,000 more than other members.

Donna St. George writes about education, with an emphasis on Montgomery County schools.
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