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Schools Chief Says He Aims To Stay in Job

By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 5, 2007

Montgomery School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, who often has been thought to have ambitions beyond the county, says he has no plans to leave. Weast has been sought out for informal consultations by political leaders and educators, he said, and has given advice to at least one candidate, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president.

But he said being the U.S. secretary of education, which, according to the local rumor mill, is in his sights, isn't on his to-do list.

"I am not looking to go anywhere. I am not looking for any other job. Heck, I want to see my four grandkids," Weast said during a two-hour luncheon last week with Washington Post editors and reporters. Weast, 59, discussed a wide range of issues and criticized state officials for dumbing down high school assessment tests to let more kids graduate from high school.

He said that he and County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), who had tangled over the school system budget this year, had smoothed things out. Weast also said he was hopeful that political leaders will find a way this year to plug a looming state budget gap, or otherwise there could be less state money for Montgomery.

Planning Board's PR Problems

Several Mongtomery County Council members used last week's debate over nominees for two planning board vacancies to discuss the board's stewardship under Chairman Royce Hanson, who is nearing the end of his first year at the helm.

Hanson was picked by the council last year to replace Derick P. Berlage, whose handling of the dispute over lax regulation of development at Clarksburg Town Center unleashed a torrent of criticism about the agency. Some council members have questioned whether Hanson is moving quickly enough to make changes.

Council member George L. Leventhal (D-At Large) said the agency is still struggling. "This is a troubled agency that needs visionary, committed leaders," Leventhal said. But too often, the staff and planning board come across as "arrogant and insulated," he said.

The agency, he said, needs to "take the responsibility to listen actively to all the residents of Montgomery County."

In recent weeks, similar concerns about insularity were expressed by council members Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) and Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring).

Council member Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At Large) has said she is worried about the planning board's proposed formula for achieving some controls over growth, saying it doesn't outline a set of overarching goals and principles.

And council President Marilyn Praisner (D-Eastern County) has been pressing Hanson publicly and privately to get a new planning director who can help guide the agency's daily operations. Acting Director Farroll Hamer left in the spring and has been replaced until the fall by Gwen Wright, who says she isn't a candidate for the permanent job. Hanson has said that the search is continuing for someone to fill the key post and that he is intent on finding someone who is the right fit.

Black Back at Springbrook

Comedian Lewis Black came home Friday to his alma mater, Springbrook High School in Silver Spring, to perform a sold-out benefit show that drew 1,100 people. It was uncensored Black, meaning that anyone attempting to count the instances of a particular curse word would have quickly run out of fingers. He told the audience how very long he had waited to stand on that stage and say such things.

"It is the first time in 20 years of being on the road . . . that I looked in the mirror to see if I had pimples," said Black, a 1966 Springbrook graduate who finished near the top of his class. He talked about linoleum flooring in his parents' home; they were in the audience, along with Black's principal and some of his Springbrook teachers. He recounted how his classmates, being wimps, chose not to spray-paint their class year on the front of the school and instead cut it out in paper, so that it could be more easily removed.

Profits from the show will go to Springbrook booster clubs and its Parent Teacher Student Association.

County BRAC Liaison Named

County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) has named former congressional aide Phil Alperson to head the county's efforts to accommodate the military base realignment and closure program, which will send thousands of new employees and new patients to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. The one-year appointment is funded by the federal government. Alperson will be paid $79,500.

The Navy Medical Center is slated to add about 1,400 new jobs and receive 435,000 new patient and visitor trips annually when it begins to take on patients from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington over the next few years.

Alperson, who lives in Silver Spring, has been working as legislative director for U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and previously worked for other House members, racking up 30 years of Hill experience.

Chamber Names Leaders, Honorees

The Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce recently introduced its new leadership team, which includes Chairman Edward Hall Asher, president of the Chevy Chase Land Co., and Chairman-elect James Whang, chairman and president of Advanced Engineering & Planning Corp. Departing Chairman Lester Coffey, president of Coffey Communications, will serve as immediate past chairman.

County Council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) was named legislator of the year for her "ongoing commitment to issues important to the Montgomery County business community," including transportation. Floreen has been a longtime supporter of the planned intercounty connector, a highway that will connect Prince George's and Montgomery counties north of the Capital Beltway.

The chamber also honored Tom Ladd, senior vice president of government affairs for Marriott International for his "outstanding contributions to Montgomery County's business, government and community."

Staff writer Daniel de Vise contributed to this report.

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