Charles County Board of Education member Kathy Levanduski resigned this week, leaving the panel to appoint its second new member in less than two years and at a time when it is often closely divided.
Levanduski, 41, said she stepped down now because of competing family commitments. Her husband was injured in a car accident in January, and his recovery has required more attention than expected, she said.
"For too long I've been dividing myself into too many pies, and when you try to do too much, you do nothing well," said Levanduski, who has four children and works full time as community representative for the Old Country Buffet.
"I've been trying to juggle it all for the last six months, and I'm burned out," she said. "I wish I could stay, but after I made the decision, in addition to some regret, there was a sense of relief."
Levanduski, who was a forceful presence on the board, said the decision to leave after nine years was unrelated to her losing the chairman's post in January to Margaret Young or to the shift in the balance of power on the seven-member, elected board.
State law allows the remaining board members to handpick Levanduski's successor to serve through the end of her term in December 2006. Young said the board would meet Tuesday to determine how and when to choose that person, who must be a Charles County resident and registered voter.
In June 2004, the board spent about seven weeks interviewing 16 candidates to replace former member Rebecca Bolton Bridgett, who left to lead the county Department of Social Services. That led to the appointment of Jennifer S. Abell, the director of the March of Dimes of Southern Maryland.
Board member Collins A. Bailey said he hoped the process would be "as broad and open as possible to give opportunity to as much of the county population as possible."
But Donald M. Wade, one of two board members who often voted with Levanduski, said he was concerned about the direction of the school system with one less voice in his corner.
"Now you've got two of us battling four," he said referring to fellow board member Cecil Marshall. "You can waste your breath talking, but in the final vote they've got what they need, and they are going to push their issues. They've got the four votes. What can you do about it?''
Said Young: "I can certainly understand his position. I've been there. I've lived it."
The teachers union and others in the community have been critical of the board majority since a "brainstorming" list made public last year suggested eliminating books from the system's reading list with "immoral" messages, inviting a religious organization to hand out Bibles in schools and getting rid of science books "biased toward evolution."
Young has said those were merely ideas that would have to go through a long vetting process before becoming policy. She said this week that she is focused on issues such as relieving crowded classrooms and making sure Charles County schools meet new academic standards under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Bill Fisher, president of the Education Association of Charles County, praised Levanduski as a diplomatic, collaborative leader who successfully pressed for school funding even in tough budget times.
Levanduski served two years as chairman and three as vice chairman. One of her first votes in 1996 was to extend the contract of then-interim Superintendent James E. Richmond. Of developments during her board tenure, she said she was most proud of the expansion of Advanced Placement courses, an increase in SAT scores and the opening of North Point High School.
Her initial interest in joining the school board was shaped by her education in Prince George's County public schools in the late 1970s. When she asked about advanced classes, Levanduski said she was told that the school system did not have anything to offer her. So, she dropped out as a junior, passed the General Educational Development exam and enrolled in college.
Later, when she had her own children, Levanduski said, "I decided that they were going to have what I didn't have, and it was unacceptable for an education system to say we don't have anything for you."
In Charles County, she said, "we don't tell students we have nothing for you."