Frederick County’s Board of Education members — the ones not running for re-election — have different views on whether they should publicly support other board candidates.
Only one incumbent, Joy Schaefer, is seeking re-election. She’s joined with two other school board candidates, Ken Kerr and Mike Bunitsky, in a “collaborative campaign,” a three-member group that is behaving like a slate — sharing costs and campaign resources — but didn’t register with the state.
Schaefer’s support of Kerr and Bunitsky, who are all Democrats, isn’t so shocking, then.
Katie Groth, a retiring board member who has served since 2004, is also a fan of the pseudo-ticket, although she’s hardly making it known.
When we interviewed Groth for an episode of our elections podcast series, In the Booth, she declined to answer my question about whom she was supporting in the election.
On her Twitter feed, though, Groth posted a photo of Schaefer’s, Kerr’s and Bunitsky’s campaign signs and wrote “vote for 3 for BOE!”
On Monday, we talked about her position for more than 20 minutes.
She seemed to struggle with the question of what degree of visibility may be appropriate, admitting that she was being wishy-washy.
Groth won’t go around and be photographed wearing campaign pins or T-shirts, or affix anything to her car, but acknowledged her tweet.
She’s also donated $100 each to Kerr’s and Bunitsky’s campaigns, state campaign finance records show.
Groth stressed that she wasn’t picking the Democrats in the race merely because they’re Democrats. Groth is unaffiliated now, having left the Republican party several years ago.
“We, as school [board] members, have to be very careful how we behave,” Groth said. “We work with kids, we work for kids. It’s worth asking about. You’re right on target with asking the questions. I don’t want to stay it’s a higher standard, but there is something in addition to the political piece.”
After we hung up, she called back five minutes later to make the point that campaigning against a colleague can create some tension during a board meeting.
Colleen Cusimano, another board member, didn’t seem squeamish in discussing her allegiances.
She posted to a local Facebook group that she is voting for Cindy Rose, a parent and the only Republican vying for a seat.
When I called Cusimano to talk about this, she readily told me she hosted a fundraiser for Rose on Oct. 2.
“I have to say I’m very passionate about protecting every citizen’s rights,” Cusimano said.
Cusimano met Rose while running for office six years ago. Rose and her family were advocating for air-conditioned buses for special education students, Cusimano said.
She has found that she often aligns with Rose. Cusimano said she found it disheartening that the public calls Rose “crazy” when she’s simply an active and involved parent.
Cusimano was confused that one Democrat dropped out of the race simply to block Rose from being elected. She said other Democrats colluded in the beginning to work against Rose.
“We have a divided country right now,” Cusimano said.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Board of Education President Brad Young, who refused to disclose whom he’s supporting. He hasn’t revealed his picks on social media, either.
He said he has to work with any of the four who would be elected.
“I just think it makes it tough for on-board relations, as far as people having hard feelings,” Young said.
The school district has a policy that prevents employees from engaging in certain political activity, but school board members are not covered.
Three other board members — Liz Barrett, Zakir Bengali and April Miller — have not been posting comments of support for candidates on their public social media accounts.