He is the only lawyer and trained accountant on the Prince George's County Board of Education. With the county school system immersed in a major lawsuit brought by the NAACP and recoiling from severe budget cuts that have left hundreds of school employes jobless, Angelo Castelli says he's the man to reelect this November.
"I've agonized over it, believe me," Castelli says of his decision to run for a second term on a board that must preside over a shrinking school system. Although the board has been reducing the number of employes for several years, he says, "this is the first year we hit programs. We're going to be faced with even more stringent cuts next year. I think I can have an input into solving these problems."
Three of the nine district seats on the Prince George's Board of Education are up for election in November. Current board member A. James Golato of Bowie is leaving the school board to run for County Council. Leslie Kreimer of Greenbelt and Castelli of Oxon Hill both face reelection. If more than two candidates file for any of the seats, a primary will be held in September.
Castelli was elected to the board in 1978, filling the seat vacated by Sue V. Mills, who moved to the County Council. Mills endorsed the 49-year-old Oxon Hill parent then, and says she supports him now.
"Any time I've turned to him, or sent a constituent to him, the matter's been seen to," Mills says. "He's also got his family involved. If he's not around, his wife Connie takes the call. The whole family serves on the Board of Education."
Castelli says the strongest part of his record is work with individual constituents whose children are having problems in the schools. But the main reason he's seeking reelection, he says, is that he and his wife Connie have three children of their own in public schools.
Castelli's oldest son, Christopher, 18, will enters the U.S. Naval Academy next month. His daughter, Mary Elizabeth, 16, is a senior at Oxon Hill Senior High; Gregory, 14, attends Oxon Hill Junior High, and his youngest daughter, Jennifer, 10, is a student at Fort Foote Elementary School.
Castelli ran under the slogan "Education is a Discipline" in 1978, and called for "a return to the three Rs." Now, he says, these priorities are not a matter of choice but of necessity, because of the board's shrinking budget. The board has spent a lot of time worrying about socioeconomic problems, he says, but, "We can't do these things. We have to concentrate on education. . . . I'd like to see the high school curriculum tightened up."
School board member Susan Bieniasz says she thinks Castelli "doesn't really see the supportive services such as many counseling services as integral to providing education as I do. I see them as vital."
Castelli is anxious to tighten up the code of conduct in county schools. The school board currently is considering a Castelli proposal that students caught in possession of drugs, alcohol or firearms would be expelled for the first offense.
Castelli's proposal "doesn't deal with the real issue," complains Otis Ducker, a National Institutes of Health administrator who was his closest rival in the 1978 election and plans to run against him again this year. Castelli "has a tendency to oversimplify some very complex things," Ducker says. "We still have these people to deal with" even if they are expelled.
Castelli, born in Rhode Island, is the son of an immigrant Italian ditch digger. He joined the Marine Corps after high school and served in Korea. He earned his law degree while working as an accountant for the Internal Revenue Service, and then moved to the Department of Justice.
Now a senior trial attorney in the department's tax division, he spends much of his time in courtrooms in the Midwest, arguing the government's point of view in tax refund cases.
"I probably litigate with some of the biggest attorneys in the country," he says. "We don't look at things on the local level." The most interesting part of being on a local school board, he says, is dealing with constituent problems.
But the big issues have been consuming the school board's time. He says the NAACP suit is a waste of time and money for the school system. "What it's done from the standpoint of our people is, it's taken administrators away from the problems of education. It's cost over $400,000 in attorney's fees. Bear in mind that this is the amount that we cut out of the athletic program."
A shortage of money is a problem the school board cannot cure, Castelli says. "Unfortunately, we're at the mercy of the County Council and the county executive. I'd love to see fiscal autonomy for the board (giving the board power to raise its own money through taxes). This would make me accountable to my constituents."
But "we can't hope for it," he adds, "for the simple reason it would give us more clout than the County Council or the executive, and so from that standpoint it's political suicide."
Castelli sees another major problem, again with no apparent solution: The school board is very much at the mercy of its employes. "We have to listen to our employes, who are presenting an educational package to us. I don't have their educational expertise, but I'm a lawyer and I do realize there's two sides to every story."
School board member Catherine Burch said, "Sometimes I think he's stubborn, but he will stop and see what the other side is. I think he's very effective, and he knows what his job is. He cares about children."
That other side is hard to get from school staff, Castelli complains. The current school board is "as cohesive as any elected board has been in Prince George's, but we don't have the same cohesion and unanimity that the school superintendent has with his staff. It's more difficult. Without a grand jury, it's difficult to get other school administrators to come forward with differing opinions . It's difficult for me and for everyone on the board."