Nine candidates are running in the April 3 primary for the Montgomery County Board of Education.

Incumbent Phil Kauffman faces three challengers in the re-election bid for his At Large seat. And five contenders are vying for an open seat being vacated by board member Laura Berthiaume in District 2, which covers Rockville and Potomac. Even though the latter is a district race, voters countywide can weigh in.

Incoming school board members will be tasked with overseeing a 146,000-student system and a budget of more than $2 billion. Working with a still-new superintendent, they will need to manage the challenges of growing enrollment, poverty and ever higher academic expectations, including a new set of national standards and standardized tests that will be transforming classrooms over the next few years. The new board will also be expected to continue developing its relationship with the County Council, after a few years of bruising budget battles.

After the primary, the two top vote getters in each race will continue to the general election in November. Board member Christopher S. Barclay (Silver Spring), 4th District also is seeking re-election, but he only has one challenger, Annita Seckinger, so he is not facing a primary.

Here’s some video footage from a forum conducted by the Montgomery County Civic Federation on March 15, which included most of the candidates.

A brief bio of each candidate is posted on the next page. I asked the candidates to send a photo and a summary of why they are running for the school board.


Saqib Ali

Age: 37

Why I am running for school board:

The current board has made several very unwise decisions such as threatening to sue the County Council over a simple budget dispute, repeatedly violating state Open Meetings Act laws and allowing anti-gay fliers to be distributed through our school system. It is clear to me that there is an unhealthy group-think dynamic that needs to be changed. We need someone with independence.

Laura Berthiaume was the most independent member and she is now leaving. We need someone independent to take her place. I am the candidate most capable of bringing that independence. And because I was a Maryland state delegate, I am the only candidate with a proven pro-education legislative track record.

Susan Byrne

Age: 55

Why I am running for school board:

I will bust the #1 Myth of Education.

Standards are not sufficient to assess learning.  Students learn best when they are engaged, attend their school of choice, are valued for their uniqueness, have opportunity to socialize and adults who collaborate with them for success.

 I will focus on student benefits, not budget battles.

Schools around the world provide better quality education for less.  I will provide tough leadership to keep the Board of Education focused on providing educational benefit to our diverse student population. 

 I will deliver cost-effective programs.

I will objectively evaluate the cost and benefit of educational programs.  I will restructure the budget to report funds directly necessary to support students and identify inefficient spending.

 I will provide the schools our kids deserve.

I will focus on quality education that taps the multiple intelligences, multiple talents, innovation, collaboration, and interdependence of our student body, not on gains in scores.

Jeanne Ellinport

Occupation:  public relations/public affairs consultant

Age: 42

Why I am running for school board:

Our school system today is not the same school system of 10 years ago.  The conversations in education are different, and I will bring fresh eyes, new energy and committed, proven leadership to the School Board. 

We need someone on the School Board who can build teams, who find common ground among various interests and get the best results. I am that someone. As a strategic communication specialist, my professional background has led me to work very effectively collaboratively. Through my work, I have managed budgets of nearly $1 billion and tackled the tough questions of race, gender and equity.  I have experience in cutting already slim budgets, as well as making the strategic decisions where to increase budgets, and through my more than 20 years as an education advocate my lens is always what is best for our children today, in order for our county to succeed tomorrow.

Fred Evans



Why I am running for school board:

Today, public education is at another crossroads.  For the past three years, budget cuts, increasing student enrollment and increasing class sizes have been continual themes for our school system, as well as no increase in benefits for our staff members.  There is much work to be done, and if I am elected, I will focus on the following priorities:

•I will help the board to address, and to close, the academic achievement gap using my experience with innovative community-based partnerships.

•I will continue to advocate for the financial resources from the County Council, State Legislature and Federal representatives to maintain, and to improve, our school system. I will propose a series of “Educate the Board of Education” forums to provide an opportunity for community members to express what works, and what doesn’t, in Montgomery County schools.

Rebecca Smondrowski

Age: 42

Why I am running for school board:

I would like to provide a complete, positive school experience for every student that is safe, secure, and socially and academically successful.

To ensure security, I would like to strengthen anti-bullying programs, increase public awareness of school bus traffic laws and restore and expand our School Resource Officer’s program.

To develop students socially, I intend on developing mentoring programs; encouraging student involvement in extracurriculars, and expanding our guidance counselors.

Academically, I will seek greater opportunities to involve the community in the development of our students education.

We need to work as a team to maintain our excellent school system. That team includes the school board, council members, PTA, state legislature, teachers, parents and students. My experience as a leader with the Montgomery County Council of PTAs, my positions with the state and local government and my work with student advocacy programs qualify me to do this.


Lou August

Age: 53 

As the former CEO of a successful technology firm, I can make tough decisions and achieve a bold vision. As creator of cutting-edge education technology programs at World Vision, the largest international non-profit in the world, I know the global education landscape and cost-effective world-class solutions.

As recipient of major education awards from two U.S. Secretaries, I can create 21st century education programs leading to economic opportunities. With four children that attended Montgomery County Public Schools, my wife teaching in the schools, and an MBA from Loyola, I know our local challenges and amazing opportunities.  

The world has dramatically changed and so must our schools. Montgomery County schools are too costly and we are still hemorrhaging jobs to the developing world.  I am running because I have the experience and know how to reverse this by aggressively leveraging our global advantages through blended classroom and e-learning, mandatory internships, global entrepreneurship programs, improved student behavior and more.

Phil Kauffman - incumbent

Age: 59

Why I am running for school board:

I am running for another term on the Board of Education because I am deeply committed to ensuring that our schools remain among the best by continuing to improve. In the next four years, I will continue to advocate that we produce graduates with the 21st Century skills necessary to participate in the adult world and in our democracy. I will combine my experience and leadership and ensure that all our students are ready for productive futures, whether they go on to college or the world of work. 

We have excellent schools in Montgomery County because as a community we value public education. We value education because it is key to a successful life for every child, key to a healthy economy, and key to the prosperity of our county. I am running for the school board because I want to ensure that these values remain on the school board.

Morris Panner

Age: 49

Why I am running for school board:

1) I have four elementary school children in Montgomery County Schools and have a longterm interest in making our great schools even greater. I believe in public education and want to be an advocate for a continued investment in all of our children. My background as a a successful student (Yale BA, Harvard JD), government servant (federal prosecutor) and entrepreneur (successfully built and sold OpenAir) helps me understand the skills kids need to compete today. I also understand how innovation can improve organizations and would translate this knowledge into working with our schools.

2) Montgomery County faces an unprecedented fiscal crisis. If we do not confront this head on, our children will be the losers. I will bring the requisite judgment, commitment and responsibility to managing the challenge of our fiscal crisis. We simply have to address the massive and growing imbalance in how much money is being spent on legacy costs including pensions and benefits. Our governor is only making it worse, attempting to cram hundreds of millions of dollars in additional long-term obligations on the county. Without the right leadership on our school board, our kids will get short changed. I will make sure this does not happen.

Aryeh Shudofsky

Age: 31

Why I am running for school board:

1) Growing up in a family of educators instilled in me the significance of education as a basic building block in a young life. I witnessed firsthand the importance of daily commitment to education, and that education is not only key to success, but also essential in shaping who we become. Those lessons, and my desire to contribute to society, led me to run for the Board of Education.

 2) With a three year-old of my own, I know what parents expect from their child’s education; I am that constituency. As important as it is to focus on preparing graduates for higher education, it’s just as crucial that we prepare them to be responsible and employable members of society, balancing college prep with aptitude testing and career and vocational studies, as well as a financial literacy requirement. I want to ensure that all of our children are prepared for life after school.

Check out a series of questionnaires the candidates completed for the Montgomery County Education Association. They include more detailed information about their ideas, experience and vision for the school system.