Frederick County school board candidates on Monday talked about how the district handles poor teachers, as well as better pay not only for the best teachers, but also for administrators and other support staff.
A meet-and-greet with PTA representatives at Monocacy Middle School — where candidates touched on many issues of interest to parents — was perhaps the last opportunity for them to speak as a group before the Nov. 8 election.
Seated under fluorescent lights of the school’s media center, in worn chairs usually occupied by students, three of the four candidates spoke in a venue more informal than the forums of recent months. The more casual atmosphere was reflected in candidates’ answers, with members of the PTA Council of Frederick at times weighing in on issues themselves after a candidate had answered a question.
Cindy Rose, the only Republican in the nonpartisan race for Frederick County Board of Education, was not present at Monday night’s talk. She provided campaign literature highlighting her position for local control in education, including ending “testing culture.”
Incumbent Joy Schaefer, retired Frederick County Public School administrator Mike Bunitsky and Frederick Community College professor Ken Kerr took turns responding to questions. The three, all Democrats, have banded together in a collaborative campaign in which they share money and campaign materials.
Schaefer, in her introduction, touched on the new teacher salary scale that the district is attempting to implement within four years, something she has brought up throughout the campaign. The scale will be more sustainable and help the district attract and retain high-quality teachers, she said.
One parent questioned whether the candidates also wanted to support other staff members with sustainable salaries.
Bunitsky — a self-proclaimed “union guy” who for years assisted with negotiations for the union that represents administrators — explained why salaries for other employees aren’t addressed as much.
The other two unions follow whatever is negotiated with the teachers union, he said; if one receives a raise, so will the others. He said the school board needed to initiate a study of the administrators’ salaries soon, per the contract.
Some teachers, however bad they might be, are just shifted around in schools because they have tenure, the parent told them. How could this be addressed?
Bunitsky said the school district does not fire anyone. It works to help teachers and put them on an improvement plan, and, if necessary, guide a teacher out of the profession if there’s no other solution.
He urged the parent to contact the principal and ask if the problems with a teacher were being addressed. Disciplinary measures to improve teacher performance are private, he said, but some principals will answer questions.
The candidates were also asked how they would approach problems and handle the diverse population of Frederick County.
In answering, each drew on personal experiences to illustrate that they took the issue seriously.
Bunitsky was a former teacher in Prince George’s County Public Schools in a predominantly black school.
Schaefer, who was born in the Philippines, talked about how her immigrant mother had trouble navigating the system.
Kerr spoke of attending Hood College when it was still a women’s college. Men could take classes but not live there; they did not feel welcome, he said.
As chairman of the FCC English department, Kerr said he tried to have a staff that mirrored the percentage of minority students on the campus.
“It’s important for students to see someone that looks like them,” he said.