A spirited matchup between two well-known Rockville politicians in the District 2 school board race and efforts by candidates to make a mark in a crowded at-large field have captured attention in early campaigning for the three Montgomery County school board seats up for election this year.
The election guarantees one new board member and marks the resumption of election by district, a method abandoned in Montgomery in the 1960s. The districting system puts candidates' names on ballots countywide, but requires that five of the seven members be elected from districts.
In the nonpartisan primary on March 8, voters will select two at-large candidates and two District 2 candidates for the November general election. The third seat up for election is in Silver Spring's District 4. Longtime board member Blair Ewing, 54, is running unopposed.
The District 2 Rockville race pits school board President Sharon DiFonzo, 45, against veteran Rockville City Council member Stephen N. Abrams and Paul Kuhn, a Montgomery College student.
First-term member DiFonzo points to her "good working relationship" with other board members and "the improvements in our relationship with the County Council as achievements that are important and hard to overlook."
DiFonzo, a homemaker and former PTA activist whose children have graduated from the public school system, has been endorsed by the executive board of EdPAC, a 200-member education political action committee, and the Montgomery County Council of Supporting Services Employees.
The teachers union, another influential education lobbying group, declined to endorse any District 2 candidate in the primary. Mark Simon, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, said that although the union does not agree with many of Abrams' views, it will not endorse the board president's candidacy at this point because "Sharon and others sometimes view themselves as an arm of the administration instead of advocates for the schools."
Abrams' decision to seek a school board seat comes on the heels of his reelection last fall to a fifth two-year term on the Rockville City Council. However, that campaign proved to be bitter, and Abrams, 44, has loudly voiced his displeasure with new Rockville Mayor Douglas Duncan and the other council members.
Abrams, a State Department administrator who has two children in the school system, said he would resign the council seat if elected. Abrams said he favors an upcounty math-science school, a project some critics view as a potential threat to the county's desegregation effort in the Blair magnet program downcounty. He is critical of the school board's decision -- and DiFonzo's vote -- to move Ritchie Park Elementary School out of the Wootton High School area and into the Richard Montgomery High School district. Abrams has been endorsed by The Rockville Gazette.
Paul Kuhn, 22, attends Montgomery College and calls his years as a student in the Montgomery County schools "a regrettable experience and a prison sentence." Kuhn said he would seek an end to many of the school system's discipline policies. Calling himself the "youth liberation candidate," Kuhn said schools should not maintain attendance records or seek to arrest students using or selling drugs in school.
Among the candidates running at large are two former officials.
The contest's most experienced campaigner is Bethesda lawyer Robin Ficker, whose reputation as a political gadfly and propensity for news conferences lend him the name recognition many consider crucial in the primary.
Ficker is a former member of the House of Delegates. He was defeated in 1982 after one term. Ficker has run unsuccessfully for Congress and for the state Senate. Ficker's three children attend county schools. Ficker, 44, said he favors improvements in the school system's physical education program, a stronger lobbying effort to compel the state to pay more school construction costs and an increased effort to combat student drug use.
Former school board member Jeremiah Floyd, who was appointed to fill a vacancy on the board in October 1984, is associate executive director of the National School Boards Association. Floyd, 56, of Bethesda lost his bid to be elected to the school board in 1986.
Floyd has been endorsed by EdPAC, the teachers union, the services employes union and the Montgomery County Alliance of Black School Educators. Floyd, whose children have graduated from county schools, is stressing the need for a good ties with the County Council, calling his approach: "Negotiate when you can. Confront when you must."
Among the newcomers is Robert Creager, 38, who said he believes the school system budget should be divided among individual schools, with the amount each would receive based on enrollment. The Burtonsville resident said he favors a plan to limit the authority of the school board and administration by empowering parents, students and staff at each school to select their own curriculum and policies. Creager is a communications engineer for Ford Aerospace in Hanover. Creager's only school-age child attends the Maharishi Age of Enlightenment School in Silver Spring, where, he said, she can learn transcendental meditation.
Catherine E. Hobbs of Sandy Spring, a secretary at the National Institutes of Health, said she became interested in school policies and issues after her son dropped out of a county high school in 1986. She favors new programs to identify and counsel potential dropouts. Hobbs, 43, has a daughter at Sherwood High School. Among issues Hobbs is campaigning on are reducing class size, adding counselors, boosting remedial instruction and providing a role model for students. Hobbs has been endorsed by the supporting services employees union.
Susan Lee White, 41, of Bethesda is an editorial assistant at the National Cancer Institute. White ran unsuccessfully in 1986 for the state Senate. White, who has no children, supports expanded day care programs in schools and daily antidrug and alcohol education.