Who Speaks for the School Board? Newer Members Say They Didn't

Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 9, 2006

Two newcomers to Montgomery County's Board of Education are taking on the old guard when it comes to the system's handling of the controversy over Seven Locks Elementary School.

Last month, the county's inspector general questioned how the school board presented its decision to tear down the existing school on Seven Locks Road in Bethesda and rebuild it on Kendale Road, about 1 1/2 miles away. Thomas J. Dagley , the inspector general, concluded in his investigation that the school system had misled the public into thinking it was cheaper to build the school on Kendale Road.

Last week, the school board responded to Dagley. At a County Council hearing, school board vice president Sharon W. Cox (At Large) said Dagley's report was incomplete because it failed to take into account several factors, including past policy decisions and the money the county could recoup if it sold the Seven Locks property.

But Nancy Navarro (Northeastern County) and Valerie Ervin (Silver Spring), both of whom joined the board in 2004, are questioning who gave Cox the authority to speak for the board. Ervin and Navarro said the full board never had a meeting to draft its response to Dagley.

"I feel really outraged such a statement would be released when the board never discussed it," Navarro said in an interview. "To me it raises a red flag, which underlines the issue of Seven Locks, which is sharing information. Who is deciding what options are better than another?"

Ervin was equally upset. "The board's self-proclaimed leader goes to the County Council on behalf of board members, and we have no idea what is in these documents," she said.

Cox, who has previously served as board president and is in her second term, said there was no reason to discuss the system's response with the full board.

"The presentation was about decisions the board already made," Cox said. "There was no way for the board to meet again to rehash our experience on the issue."

Board member Patricia O'Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase) conceded that the panel never discussed its response to the inspector general's report. But she said that Navarro and Ervin did not volunteer any concerns about Bagley's report during the previous two school board meetings. "If you are upset about something, you need to raise it with colleagues, and you need to raise it in a timely fashion," O'Neill said.

But it is clear Navarro and Ervin's comments touched a nerve.

"Navarro is very new to the board, and I think she is subject to political pressures" from council members and other elected officials, Cox said.

Other board members have taken aim at Ervin's dissent by restarting an old whispering campaign. They contend she has a conflict of interest because she also works for Council President George L. Leventhal (D-At Large).

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