BERLIN – A decade after a controversial referendum vote to
change Worcester County’s Board of Education from a body appointed by the
governor to one elected by the voters of the county, there appears to be little
interest in challenging the incumbents in the upcoming election.
In 2000, the voters of Worcester County approved by
referendum a switch from a school board appointed by the governor to an elected
body after months of considerable saber-rattling and gnashing of teeth. In the
following election in 2002, each of the four seats up for election were
contested and three of those elected that first year remain on the board today.
The process was staggered so four seats came up for election in one cycle and
three the next to avoid a complete turnover in one election.
During the next election in 2006, with the memories of the
controversial referendum waning and the county’s public school system making
great strides in terms of student performance, none of the seats up for
election were challenged, although there was some turnover caused by sitting
board members deciding not to seek re-election.
With the filing deadline for the November election rapidly
approaching, the four sitting school board members whose seats are up this time
around have all filed including current Board President Bob Hulburd and Board
members Bob Rothermel, Donnie Shockley and Doug Dryden, but no challengers have
With Tuesday’s 9 p.m. filing deadline approaching, the
question remains does the dearth of candidates reflect a general apathy about
the school board or a resounding endorsement for the sitting members. It
appears on the surface the answer is the latter, according to Worcester Superintendent
of Schools Dr. Jon Andes.
“We have an excellent school system,” he said. “A lot of
the success is due to the visionary leadership of our Board of Education. This
board has kept our school system focused on the needs of our students. Whenever
the board talks about policies, the question always comes around to how will
this benefit our kids.”
For his part, Rothermel agreed the lack of challengers for
the four open seats seems to indicate the voters in the county are satisfied
with the results under the current board’s watch. Worcester typically ranks
among the tops in the state in terms of student performance, a barometer by
which all school systems are judged.
“If we were going in the wrong direction, there would be
people lining up to try to change it,” he said. “We’ve got a great school
system and that’s the result of having a great team in place. We have a great
team from the board to the administrators and staff to the teachers and right
down to the rank and file.”
Rothermel said the results have not come easy and the
school board is cognizant of the need to keep improving and not resting on its
laurels. He suggested the lack of challengers is likely an endorsement to keep
the momentum going.
“It’s working,” he said. “There are always challenges and
each year we keep raising the bar. That’s not to say we don’t have our speed
bumps along with way, but we’ve been able to overcome those obstacles and
Rothermel said the county school system’s achievements
should place it in pretty rarified air.
“I know it’s a cliché, but the proof is in the pudding,”
he said. “If Maryland has the top performing public school system in the
country, and Worcester County is routinely among the tops in the state, logic
follows that Worcester is one of the top public school systems in the country.”
For his part, Hulburd said he hoped the apparent lack of
interest in the upcoming school board races is indicative of the county
electorate’s satisfaction with the current board.
“I’d hate to think it’s apathy because it’s one of the
most important things we do as a government,” he said. “I think it’s a very
important job, and I also think if people thought we weren’t doing such a great
job, they’d be signing up to challenge us.”
Hulburd said one of the reasons for the apparent lack of
challengers is the apolitical nature of the positions. While most school board
members are obviously registered to one party or another, they don’t run for
election under the umbrella of their respective parties.
“It truly is non-partisan,” he said. “Nobody knows for
sure who has a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ after their name and it’s not important. It
doesn’t get caught up in that whole party thing. It’s not like one of the
parties goes ‘we need to get a candidate in this or that race.’”
Hulburd, Rothermel and Shockley were among the first four
elected to the school board back in 2002 and have since been re-elected
unchallenged. A fourth member of that inaugural group, Marion Butler, has since
been replaced by Dryden in an uncontested election. Two of the original members
appointed to the school board, Sara Thompson and Garry Mumford, remain on the
body after winning elections. Jonathan Cook is the seventh member of the
current school board.
“One of the biggest things is, most people don’t know what
we do all the time, but if they know us, they know we care about the kids,”
said Hulburd. “We’re not in this for any other reason except we really care
about what’s best for our students.”