Correction to This Article
In some editions of the Dec. 10 Metro section, an article incorrectly said that Montgomery County School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast's compensation includes a car and driver. Weast has a car allowance, but the budget does not include a driver.

Activist, Father Tapped For School Board Seat

By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 10, 2006

Christopher S. Barclay, a community activist from Takoma Park with three daughters in Montgomery County public schools, was appointed yesterday to the board that oversees Maryland's largest school system.

The county's Board of Education chose Barclay, 45, to replace Valerie Ervin, who was elected in November to the County Council and took office last week.

Barclay, who will occupy the District 4 seat from the county's east side, won support from five of the seven remaining board members after the panel interviewed five applicants in an open session yesterday morning. He will serve the remaining two years of Ervin's term and could seek reelection after that.

Board members are elected countywide in nonpartisan races and serve at large or from districts.

The selection of Barclay foreshadows the emergence of a new coalition on the eight-member school board, which has a student member. Many of the members had received strong backing from labor unions and groups pressing for greater aid to underachieving students.

Barclay's appointment also increases African American representation on the board to two, at a time when minority parents have raised concerns about the continual lagging of black and Hispanic students behind their white and Asian American classmates. Newcomer Judy Docca (District 1) also is African American, as is Ervin, whom Barclay replaced.

Board Vice President Sharon W. Cox (At Large), who had hoped to be elected president when the panel meets Tuesday, said yesterday that she is taking herself out of contention.

Board member Nancy Navarro (District 5) and newcomer Shirley Brandman (At Large) are thought to have enough votes to be elected president and vice president, respectively. They were among the group who supported Barclay.

Barclay, a project manager for Verizon who has long been active in school affairs in eastern Montgomery, bested Victor Salazar, another activist. He came in second, with two votes. Salazar was backed by Cox and board member Stephen N. Abrams (District 2), who was making his first appearance at a board meeting yesterday since it became known in mid-November that a political rival had accused him of second-degree assault.

Barclay, who will be sworn in tomorrow, said yesterday that he is especially concerned about the achievement gap affecting African American and Hispanic students and that he hopes to get up to speed quickly on that and other issues.

"That is what really drives a lot of what I do," he said. "The county is doing well, but we have to do much better to ensure that kids are competitive and have solid options and preparation."

The board will face several challenges in the next few months, as members assess Superintendent Jerry D. Weast's new budget of about $2 billion, which he will announce Wednesday. The 139,000-student school system, like other county agencies, faces a potential budget crunch because county revenue is not expected to grow significantly.

Last week, the County Council signaled its intent to compel agencies to adhere to budget limits imposed by the county charter. At times, the school system has exceeded them.

Although school enrollment is not expected to increase in the next year -- and actually could drop -- the system faces fiscal pressures from several sources. Among them are new federal guidelines that require more precise accounting of future pension costs and the prospect of new union contracts that include annual wage increases of as much as 5.3 percent.

In addition, Weast is expected to seek a new multiyear contract and a raise. He is currently paid $238,000, excluding benefits and perks such as a car allowance.

Barclay, a favorite of the school system's unions, served as Navarro's campaign treasurer in the fall election and received enthusiastic backing from her yesterday. Nothing in board regulations prevented Navarro from voting for him.

Board members are paid $18,500 a year. The president receives an additional $4,000 annually.

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