The Montgomery County school board is expected to elect Eleanor D. Zappone, a close ally of controversial conservative board member Marian L. Greenblatt, as its president today.
Zappone has joined with Greenblatt and other conservative members of the board in approving a number of school closings and policy changes that have angered minority groups and liberals in the county.
Greenblatt, the leader of the conservative faction, had been mentioned as the likely new school board president. But she said yesterday that Zappone would be the board's choice and that Suzanne Peyser, another ally, would become vice president. Some other board members indicated privately that Greenblatt's assessment is correct.
If this proves true, Greenblatt will maintain considerable influence over the board's direction but will also have time to campaign for political office, which she is known to be considering.
Both Zappone and Peyser were elected to the board with Greenblatt's strong backing. In 1978, Zappone ran on a conservative slate with board members Joseph R. Barse and Carol F. Wallace that was managed by Greenblatt's husband, Marshall (Mickey) Greenblatt. Peyser was first elected when she ran on a slate with Greenblatt last year.
Barse, who is seen as a "swing" vote, refused to confirm whether he would vote for Zappone and Peyser. "I probably have decided but there is the possibility I could switch," Barse said.
Barse is running for reelection to the board next year and is expected to seek Mickey Greenblatt's help in his campaign. Some observers speculated yesterday that, for this reason, Barse would endorse Greenblatt's choices for the board offices.
Outgoing board president Wallace said the Zappone-Peyser combination "would not be a surprise" but that she had not been contacted by other board members who were trying to line up votes.
Although Wallace has said she does not want to serve another one-year term as president, there have been private discussions among some board members about having her run as an alternative to Greenblatt or Zappone.
Last year Wallace beat out Greenblatt for the presidency on the 10th ballot. In that contest the current vice president, Elizabeth Spencer, abstained until casting the deciding vote for Wallace.
The board traditionally rotates its members into the presidency. Greenblatt said that Zappone deserved the office because "it is her turn." Zappone has lost two previous bids for board vice president.
Board member Blair Ewing, a persistent critic of the conservative faction, said yesterday that he thought Wallace would be a better president than Zappone or Peyser.
"I think the public reaction to Zappone and Peyser will be one of incredulity," Ewing said. "There is no evidence that either one exercises anything like independent judgment." He said both women take their cues from Greenblatt.
That perception is common among critics of the board's conservative majority, who refer to Peyser and Zappone as "Marian's marionettes."
However Zappone and Peyser maintain that they are not "followers" of Greenblatt. "I know we are more independent than people say," Peyser said yesterday.
Zappone is personally popular among the members of the board. She is always gracious and never critical of her peers in public. Known for her hard work, Zappone was the only board member who heard all the testimony of every witness at a month of public hearings on school closings. She has three daughters, the youngest of whom is a senior in high school.
Peyser is a former teacher and Democratic party activist who seldom speaks at board meetings. She was the campaign chairman for County Council member Scott Fosler, and taught English and history at Einstein High School and at Argyle Junior High. Both of her daughters attend Holton-Arms, a private school in Bethesda