Lesley Kreimer of Greenbelt paused and stared at the ceiling for several seconds before answering the question. She had been asked whether there is any reason to be optimistic about the future of the Prince George's County's school system.
"I don't know. Possibly," said the 37-year-old school board member who is seeking her third term in the November election. The greatest hope for improving the system will come when those heading the federal and county governments are replaced, she said.
She called County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan "destructive to education. But the (County) Council has not been too much help in this area either." The council could have done more to produce additional revenues for the school system, she said.
Massive budget cuts this year forced the county to lay off more than 500 teachers and to reduce or eliminate numerous school programs. Kreimer is more than a little worried about the effects on the county's children.
"TRIM (the voter-imposed limit on property tax collections) says a lot for where people's priorities are. It saddens me. . . . Most people in the county really don't care about kids anymore," she said.
As of Monday, Kreimer was unopposed in her bid to hold on to the second district seat. Three of the nine positions on the county's nonpartisan Board of Education are up for election in November. Of the other incumbents, board member A. James Golato of Bowie is leaving his seat to run for County Council, and Angelo Castelli of Oxon Hill is seeking reelection. Yesterday was the deadline for candidates to file for the school board race.
Kreimer, a former Suitland High School guidance counselor, shares a town house with her husband Stephen, director of training for the National Mental Health Association, and their two daughters. Aimee, 6, will enter second grade and Alisa, 4, will start kindergarten this fall at Magnolia Elementary School.
If she is reelected to the board, where she has served since 1973, Kreimer said, her outlook on the school system will be different than in the past.
"All along I have been interested in alternative programs. But I see that economic reality is precluding these kinds of things," she said, noting that the elimination of the elementary school instrumental music program and cuts in field trips and in the Talented and Gifted Program seriously hurt educational quality.
"I don't think schools should be stripped of these experiences. . . . I don't think children can sit and do reading all day long," Kreimer said.
To try to keep these programs, she said, she intends to see whether a fee can be charged for optional field trips and other enrichment activities slashed from the budget.
But she said the legality of her proposal "needs clarification," noting that it is illegal to require public school students to pay for programs related to their curriculum. Kreimer indicated she hopes the school board would work aggressively, with the state Board of Education if necessary, to make extracurricular programs available on a fee basis.
A 1966 graduate of Ohio State University, Kreimer received a master's degree in counseling from the University of Pittsburgh. She has lived in Prince George's County for 12 years. Since 1980, she has served as president of the Metropolitan Area Boards of Education, which represents eight local school boards.
Dale Gaddy, who will assume that presidency in September, said Kreimer has shown "very capable leadership in terms of organizing useful programs and putting together topical agendas."
"She's always a very pleasant person," he added.
Referring to Kreimer's experience as a Prince George's guidance counselor, fellow board member Golato said Kreimer is "able to give a front-line educational point of view" to the board. "Maybe at times there was disagreement with her due to this perspective, but I'm not going to say which is the right way and which is the wrong way." Kreimer projected the "orientation" of an educator while on the school board, he said, and she is "more aware of what goes on in the classroom" than other members.
Seated amid the bright pink decor of her Greenbelt living room, Kreimer described as unfortunate the current NAACP suit against the county, which seeks to show that the school system never accomplished desegregation despite a 1972 court order. "I fully believe the school system is desegregated. The $600,000 in (court) costs could be used for better purposes. . . . We have gone to extremes to maintain racial balance," she said.
Now that she has school-age children of her own, Kreimer said, she has a new reason for seeking reelection: "I want to be involved while they're there because I can see better what's going on in the schools ."
Although she is concerned about the quality of education now that class sizes will rise to an average of more than 30 children this fall, Kreimer said that, for the moment, the system is still good enough for her daughters.
But she said her family would move out of the county if the schools worsen. "I will not sacrifice them to the school system for political reasons," she said adamantly. "But there are still enough quality teachers and administrators."