Five candidates currently running for Baltimore County executive—state Sen. Jim Brochin (D), former state Del. Johnny Olszewski Jr. (D), Councilwoman Vicki Almond (D), state Del. Pat McDonough (R), insurance commissioner Al Redmer (R)—fielded questions at the Community College of Baltimore County - Catonsville, last Thursday, April 26.
The candidates—except Vicki Almond—had met for a forum once before, at CCBC -Catonsville, in November 2017. John Dedie, a professor of political science at CCBC, organized both events and acted as moderator on both occasions.
Kevin Kamenetz, the current Baltimore County executive and 2018 Maryland gubernatorial candidate, recently proposed the Baltimore County College Promise program which, if approved by the County Council, would cover tuition and fees for recent high school graduates attending CCBC. Qualifications would include a minimum grade point average of 2.5 and a gross adjusted income below $69 thousand, according to the CCBC website.
Video by Mass Communication student, Alyssa Miller
When asked if he would continue this scholarship program as County executive, Olszewski Jr. answered affirmatively. Olszewski Jr. says a full audit of the Baltimore County Public Schools and CCBC budgets, which would ostensibly uncover “waste, fraud and abuse,” is necessary to find funds for the program.
McDonough says, “the program is not a practical idea,” and “in my opinion, elitist,” since it would not provide financial aid for those looking to join the workforce in a technical field immediately following high school. McDonough referenced private sector scholarship programs, which involve job training and do eat away the County budget, as a positive alternative.
Redmer and Almond both commented that major issues currently plaguing BCPS, like dilapidated facilities and personnel shortages, must be addressed before such a program could be economically feasible. Redmer went on to say that, “we need a total revamping of Baltimore County Education,” which would include a curriculum overhaul focused on career oriented courses.
McDonough and Brochin agreed, the former advocating the creation of an advisory commission comprised of retired teachers to better inform the County executive on current problems, and the latter emphasizing that technology purchases, such as individual laptops for elementary schoolers, divert funds that could be better allocated elsewhere. According to Brochin, BCPS spends more money on laptops than any other public school district in the United States.
Olszewski Jr.—a former Patapsco High School teacher himself—said that he would support a 20 percent pay raise for teachers and the establishment of an independent board to oversee BCPS expenditures, to prevent another major scandal in the future.
Dallas Dance, the former BCPS superintendent, was recently sentenced to six months imprisonment after being convicted on four counts of perjury. Dance was, according to the Baltimore Sun, receiving a consultant’s salary from several technology companies which were awarded no-bid contracts, and were paid millions for tablets and computers, by BCPS.
Will Grant, a CCBC student currently interning for McDonough through CCBC’s political science internship program, says that, “corruption, in the County government and in the schools,” is the issue he is most concerned with. Elhadj Diallo, a second-year student CCBC, also felt that, “the forum is important because it emphasizes how the candidates will improve schools.”
When asked how they would deal with the potential threat posed by mass shooters, McDonough, Brochin and Redmer asserted that all elementary, middle and high schools must be outfitted with their own Student Recourse Officer. None of the candidates mentioned security at CCBC.
“Traveling SROs are not enough,” Brochin said, in response to Almond’s school security proposal which would entail the sharing of SROs between elementary schools. Olszewski Jr. argued that automated security systems, such as interior locking classroom doors, would be a more effective security measure than armed police.
Brochin and Almond further quarreled over the extent of the County executive’s jurisdiction in regards to public education. “We have a school board to take care of these issues,” Almond said in response to a question about BCPS superintendent, Verletta White’s, policy making. “This is an executive function,” retorted Brochin, who feels that BCPS board meetings need to be open to the public.
And when Almond said that, “we can’t stop development in Baltimore County,” Brochin touted his past successes thwarting multi-use development of green spaces and parks, such as Lake Roland, while serving as a state senator.
Brochin also assured that, if elected, he would push legislation barring campaign donations from developers to local government candidates. Olszewski Jr. says he would take things a step further and ban special interest donations altogether.
Though disagreements on some issues arose, candidates agreed on more issues than not, and all seemed imbibed with McDonough’s, “put Baltimore County first,” spirit, especially when unanimously declaiming the construction of a third-span of the Chesapeake Bay bridge, which would connect Baltimore and Kent counties, and “benefit no one except Ocean City,” says McDonough.
Dedie says he will invite the two County executive candidates who receive their party’s nomination back for a final round of debate, in the fall of 2018, before the Maryland general elections in November.
Voter registration and party affiliation deadlines are June 5, with the Maryland primary being held later that month, on June 26. Whichever candidates you support or party you affiliate with, stop taking our representative democracy for granted and go cast a vote.
*Articles reflect the views of the author and or those quoted and do not necessarily represent the views of CCBC or the CCBC Connection.