Category Archives: MCEA

Top Seventh State Stories, July 2020

By Adam Pagnucco.

These were the top stories on Seventh State in July ranked by page views.

1. Restaurant: My Staff Will Not Wear Face Masks
2. MCEA: MCPS Reopening Plan “Wholly Inadequate” to Protect Students and Staff
3. Volcano in Rockville
4. The Upcounty Doesn’t Vote and Nobody Seems to Care
5. Distance Learning May be Plan C, but it is the Best Option Right Now
6. MoCo’s Book Club
7. Elrich on Hot Mic: “Can I Say the Council is Fact Proof?”
8. MCEA President Responds to MCPS Video
9. Kleine on the Line Again
10. MCPS Releases “Just the Facts” Video

The post about a restaurant not requiring face masks was one of the top five most-read stories in the history of this blog. (That puts some perspective on the relative importance of politics!) Marilyn Balcombe and Sunil Dasgupta deserve congratulations for their excellent and widely read guest posts. Aside from those, the top posts generally reflect the top two stories of the month: MCPS’s reopening decision and the county’s ethics-challenged Chief Administrative Officer Andrew Kleine.

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MCEA President Responds to MCPS Video

By Adam Pagnucco.

Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) President Chris Lloyd has released the video below as a message to MCEA members in reaction to the MCPS video on the school system’s reopening plan. MCEA had previously said that the reopening plan was “wholly inadequate” to protect the health of students and employees.

Lloyd covers a lot of ground in this video, relating concerns of worried teachers and their family members, asking which metrics will be used to judge school safety and asking what will happen if (when) students and employees contract the virus at school and pass away. He says that school preparation can be funded with a share of the federal CARES Act money received by the county but notes that the school system has not requested it. He implores teachers not to leave their jobs. And he describes this feedback from MCEA members on MCPS’s video.

Some of you told me you felt the video on Friday from our employer was condescending. That it was gaslighting. That it made you feel small. And angry. That it was another example of our employer using tactics to try and divide us from our community. That it was an attempt to union bust. The union isn’t me and it isn’t you. It is all of us as a part of the largest labor union in the country with 3 million members.

On top of all of this, MCPS and MCEA have not finalized a new collective bargaining agreement as of this writing.

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MCPS Releases “Just the Facts” Video

By Adam Pagnucco.

MCPS has released the video below elaborating on its school reopening plan. The video was no doubt prompted by the Montgomery County Education Association’s statement that MCPS’s reopening was “wholly inadequate” in protecting students and staff.

Among the points made by MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith and some of his top staff are:

School will start on August 31 and be “all virtual.” Smith said, “When we phase it will depend on our health circumstances in our community and in our state.” Right now, the timing of when phases of in-school learning will begin is unknown.

Smith commented on the needs of students for physical school. He said, “We know that we have literally thousands and thousands of students who need to be in school if at all possible. We have students who are in poverty. We have students who have learning disabilities. We have students who are requiring English. We have students who really benefit from the structure, from their physical, social and psychological well-being. We have students who want the most rigorous experiences. In fact, every single student needs school. So we want to be ready to phase in when we’re able to come back in based on the health situation of our community. And when we are ready, we want to be able to start.”

The issue of discipline related to mask wearing came up. Deputy Superintendent Monifa McKnight gave this example: “We definitely are not going to discipline a six year old child who needs to take a break or struggles with adjusting to this new way of keeping themselves safe. But what we are going to do is teach them about it, teach them about the importance of it and how it contributes to their environment in a responsible way and help them and make note of things they struggle with wearing it so we can figure out ways to support them.” Nothing in the discussion contradicted MCEA’s statement that violating mask requirements would not result in discipline.

Communications Director Derek Turner said, “The next rumor I’ve heard is that only teachers and students are going to be cleaning classrooms.” (Note: MCEA said that “teachers and students will be primarily responsible for wiping down surfaces between classes” but did not say that they would be the only ones cleaning classrooms.) Associate Superintendent Essie McGuire said that building services workers would have more cleaning responsibilities than before but that teachers and students would have a role too. She said, “When we think about teachers and students, we’re really thinking about those personal spaces, the kind of in-the-moment, day-to-day cleaning that may just go with incidental use of your room or your personal space.”

McGuire said that MCPS has spent millions on personal protective equipment (PPE) and will continue to. When asked by Turner about whether just two masks would be provided for the entire year to teachers and students (as MCEA asserted), McGuire discussed how inventories of masks and other PPE would be available at schools but did not otherwise directly address the two-mask question.

McGuire said that different kinds of hand sanitizer dispensers would be available in different places inside schools. However, she did not directly contradict MCEA’s statement that “free-standing, hands-free sanitizer stations will not be available at school entrances because of their difficulty to obtain.”

McGuire said that there will not be a hard standard of 15 kids in a classroom. Classrooms will be evaluated based on their size and social distancing requirements to determine their appropriate student capacity. The actual number of students per classroom will vary.

On the degree of choice given to MCPS employees about whether they would be required to return to physical schools, Smith quoted a statement made by MCEA President Chris Lloyd in Bethesda Beat. Smith said:

I think this quote by Mr. Lloyd, the MCEA president, at the end of June, beginning of July in the Bethesda Beat really kind of sums up where we are. This is the quote. Lloyd said, “Many older teachers and those who are immune-compromised have told him they might not be comfortable returning to school buildings in the fall. But Lloyd said Superintendent Jack Smith has been clear with union leaders that teachers and students will have the flexibility to decide if they need to work remotely.” And so really that’s that issue of need and flexibility and choice, how all that works together. So we have to have a process for that. So we’re going to continue to work with individual employees and with individual families about what works for different families based on their needs and we have to be ready when we can phase in again to know who can and will work in schools, who will need to be in the virtual program and how that will continue to work together. So we’re going to continue this conversation in the next week, in the next month, in the next couple of months as we move forward and make plans for how to re-phase, reenter schools in a phased approach when we’re able to do so.

Smith ended the video with this statement.

This is a very, very tough situation. No one would have chosen this. Not one person would choose this. And we are all touched and affected by it. Every one of us, every person listening to me today has been touched in many ways by this. We must continue to work together on behalf of everyone to do the best job we can to make things work for our community, for our students, for our staff and the entire public education structure. It’s critically important for our future that we are able to continue forward with public education in the way that it serves our communities.

Amen to that, Dr. Smith.

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MCEA: MCPS Reopening Plan “Wholly Inadequate” to Protect Students and Staff

By Adam Pagnuccco.

Last night, the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) held a town hall with its members to share its recent discussions with MCPS on a range of issues, including MCPS’s plan to reopen schools. MCEA just put out the press release below summarizing its views on the reopening plan.

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MONTGOMERY COUNTY EDUCATORS CORRECT MISINFORMATION REGARDING PROPOSED SCHOOL REOPENINGS WITH SERIOUS CONCERNS OVER STUDENT AND COMMUNITY SAFETY

Summary of MCEA Position on Reopening

ROCKVILLE — The Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) plan to reopen schools is wholly inadequate to protect the health and safety of students and staff. Many questions about how to safely implement the plan remain unanswered and there are discrepancies between what MCPS leaders told the public during a July 15 virtual town hall, and what they are telling the teachers from the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) who are trying to work with MCPS to come up with a way to ensure student and staff safety.

Masking, social distancing, and enhanced cleaning are the three pillars on which the MCPS plan rests, and it fails in all three areas.

For example, MCPS is proposing supplying students and staff with two cloth masks for the entire school year. Disposable masks will be available if students or staff forget their mask or soil it, but only as long as supplies are available. The cloth masks must be cleaned after each use, but there is no way for teachers to determine whether a mask has been washed.

Mask wearing will be mandatory, but educators have no recourse beyond moral persuasion to enforce this requirement. MCPS says mask-wearing is a “wellness” issue and that teachers should stress to students that wearing a mask keeps everyone safer. If a child cannot be persuaded, MCPS suggests the teacher ask the school nurse or counselor for help, if one is available. MCPS has made clear this is not a “discipline” issue and that teachers should not send students to building administrators.

Students will eat lunch in their classrooms–unmasked. It is unclear who will monitor students during lunch, and teachers/students will be responsible for “sanitizing” the space after eating.

For social distancing, MCPS is requiring six feet between student desks in classrooms. MCPS has posted videos showing adults pretending to be students sitting in classrooms and lining up when they arrive at school, but MCEA representatives who have visited elementary schools to look at classroom set ups have yet to find one large enough to safely accommodate students, even if class sizes are halved, as MCPS proposes. Limited bus seating means schools will have to stagger arrival and departure times, further complicating social distancing. It is unclear how schools will safely conduct mandatory drills, including fire drills and those required for active shooter threats and inclement weather.

Enhanced cleaning and frequent hand washing also fall far short. Contrary to what MCPS has told the public, free-standing, hands-free sanitizer stations will not be available at school entrances because of their difficulty to obtain. Because no additional funds have been designated to beef up custodial staffing, teachers and students will be primarily responsible for wiping down surfaces between classes. This assumes adequate cleaning supplies will be available. Building services staff will clean “high contacts” areas, but given limited time, it is likely places like bathrooms will be cleaned just twice a day. A weekly “deep clean” on Wednesday does little to protect students and staff throughout the school day on Monday and Tuesday, or Thursday and Friday.

A plan replete with shortcomings cannot ensure the health and safety of students or staff. If MCPS leaders persist with this terribly flawed reopening, they will do so, leaving educators with an untenable choice: our jobs or our health and the health of the people we love.

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MoCo’s Nasty School Board Race, Part Two

By Adam Pagnucco.

In addition to being one of MoCo’s nastiest races of all time, this year’s school board election is arguably the strangest ever. Consider a list of typical election activities that are hampered or altogether prohibited by the COVID-19 lockdown.

Door knocking – Fuhgeddaboutit.

In-person campaign coffees and fundraisers – Fuhgeddaboutit.

Lit handouts at Metro stations – Fuhgeddaboutit.

Lit drops – It’s not clear if this counts as essential travel. It’s also not clear if this will creep out voters.

Campaign forums – They are not possible to do in person. There are opportunities to do these online but there will be far fewer of them than in a regular cycle.

Poll coverage – Fuhgeddaboutit!!

So what’s left? No candidate currently has the money to do serious mail. Blast emails are possible, but if anyone has an email list, I’m not on it. (For the record, I have been added to TONS of political email lists!) Signs have been distributed along with the usual instances of illegal placement. Bethesda Beat is covered with school board ads. (Steve Hull wins every election!) Social media ads are cost effective and several candidates have used them, but they can’t replace all of the other campaign tools that have been knocked out by the virus. Then there is the word of mouth being circulated by supporters of one candidate or another, but to see it, you have to be connected to the partisans. The HUGE majority of voters are not in these bubbles.

Let’s remember that this is a presidential primary and all county voters with all party affiliations can vote. In the 2016 primary, 183,479 people voted in MoCo’s at-large school board race. That far exceeds the number who vote in mid-term Democratic primaries for governor, county executive and county council at-large, races which have much more financing than school board contests. The two candidates who emerged from the 2016 primary had more than 50,000 votes each. This year’s winning number could be higher if the all-mail election encourages higher turnout as it did in Rockville and also because of national factors.

Given all of these limitations, you would have to be crazy to be a campaign manager in this race!

That said, there are certain factors that could make a difference.

The Apple Ballot

The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) has an excellent record of getting its endorsed school board candidates through primaries. MCEA’s choice this year is Universities at Shady Grove professor Sunil Dasgupta, who proudly puts the Apple Ballot front and center on his website. Historically, the union’s most effective tactic has been distribution of Apple Ballots at voting precincts, but that is now impossible due to COVID-19 restrictions and the state’s transition to a mostly mail election. The teachers can still use social media and they have sent at least one mailer promoting their candidate. One note of caution comes from February 2008, when an ice storm shut down MCEA’s poll coverage, resulting in a rare defeat for its candidate in a primary.

The Washington Post

Along with the Apple Ballot, the Post’s endorsement is one of the top two in school board races and has a great record of helping candidates win. At first it seemed the Post was going to sit out the primary (as it has done before), but over the weekend, the newspaper endorsed former PTA president Lynne Harris. This is a huge problem for anti-boundary analysis leader Stephen Austin, who now faces one candidate with the Apple, another one with the Post and a primary from which only two candidates will emerge. One question: with Harris’s lack of funding and the Post endorsement coming so late, will she have the time and bandwidth to capitalize on it?

Stephen Austin’s Facebook Group

Say what you will about Austin and his group, but his page is larger than any other MCPS-related site that could play a part in this election. Consider these Facebook page statistics at this writing.

Montgomery County MD Neighbors for Local Schools (Austin’s group): 8,033 members
Montgomery County Education Association: 4,006 followers
Montgomery County Council of PTAs: 1,573 followers
SEIU Local 500 (an endorser of Dasgupta): 1,154 followers
One Montgomery (favors school equity, opposes Austin): 846 followers
Sunil Dasgupta’s campaign page: 595 followers
Stephen Austin’s campaign group: 358 members
Lynne Harris’s campaign page: 275 followers
Jay Guan’s campaign page: 185 followers

None of the candidates’ pages are large enough to have any organic effect on the election though they can be used for ads. But through his “neighbors for local schools” page, Austin can reach out to roughly 8,000 people, an advantage that no other candidate has. In an election with no poll coverage by the Apple Ballot, no ground-level campaigning and no serious money for any candidate, how big of an advantage is this?

One Montgomery’s Attack Piece

The brutal One Montgomery attack piece in Maryland Matters linking Austin to Trump supporters and anti-LGBTQ activists has gotten a lot of attention on his critics’ pages. But has it really penetrated beyond the progressive circles that were unlikely to vote for Austin anyway? For this piece to be truly effective, someone has to place a four- or five-digit social media ad buy to push it out to the general public. Otherwise it will be just one more thing to argue about for the relative handful of folks inside the bubble.

The Alphabet

Don’t laugh, but in down-ballot, under-the-radar races, being near or at the top of the ballot can get a candidate a few extra points. Research of varying quality has found this to be the case in Danish local and regional elections, Vancouver local elections, California state elections, California city council and school board elections, Ohio county elections and British local council elections. Austin will be listed second on the ballot. Will that matter?

However these factors mix, there are two likely scenarios. If Dasgupta and Harris emerge from the primary, this will turn into a traditional Apple vs Post race. But if Austin breaks through to claim one of the primary spots, this will be more insider vs outsider with school boundaries front and center. Jay Guan, the fundraising leader who has mailed a postcard, may also have a chance.

There is more to an election than tactics; there is also policy at stake. Part Three will conclude with a few issues that have been overshadowed by the boundary analysis war but nevertheless warrant attention from the candidates.

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Three Keys to School Board Races

By Adam Pagnucco.

Make no mistake: running for school board is TOUGH.  The MoCo school board has two at-large seats, five district seats and one seat elected by MCPS students.  Of the seven non-student seats, all of them – at-large and district – are subject to voting by the entire county electorate.  Three seats – one of the at-large seats plus Districts 2 and 4 – hold elections in presidential years, which attract tons more voters than gubernatorial years when elections for other state and county offices are held.  Since the school board seats are non-partisan, both primaries and generals can be real competitions.  Finally, Republicans, unaffiliated and third party voters can vote in school board primaries as well as generals.  So school board candidates have to communicate with waaaaaay more voters than county-level and state legislative candidates and they have a lot less money to do that.

Dear readers, think about all of the above before you decide to run for school board!

And so these races are distinguished by little money, large electorates and woefully inadequate press attention.  That’s why three factors are almost always key to deciding them.  They are:

1.  Incumbency.  This is an important advantage in most elections.  Incumbents have opportunities to learn the issues, assemble records, build relationships and accumulate name recognition.  School board races are no exception.

2.  The Apple Ballot.  The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) has long had the most advanced political program of any group that participates in MoCo elections.  Its centerpiece is the mighty Apple Ballot, an apple-shaped endorsement flyer that is widely distributed at election time.  Few if any groups care more about school board elections than MCEA since board members set policy, hire the superintendent and approve collective bargaining agreements.

A version of the Apple Ballot from 2006.  Note the placement of school board candidates at the top.

3.  The Washington Post endorsement.  The Post regularly endorses in school board races and the newspaper has a reach that extends beyond traditional Democratic voting constituencies.  The Post is also occasionally critical of MCEA although it sometimes supports the same candidates as the teachers.

Without the benefit of significant resources to communicate with vast numbers of voters, school board candidates with one or more of the above advantages are heavily dependent on them to differentiate themselves from the pack.  That’s why while all of the above advantages matter in any race, they may be especially critical to candidates for school board.

The table below shows candidates in contested school board races from 2006 through 2018 and the distribution of incumbency, the Apple Ballot and the Post endorsement.  In some cases, the primary was uncontested because there were two or fewer candidates while the general was contested.

A casual glance demonstrates the value of incumbency, the Apple and the Post endorsement but let’s be more explicit.  The table below shows win rates for all three, as well as combinations of some or all of them.

In every tabulation, candidates holding at least one of the above three advantages win at least 75% of the time.  Holders of more than one advantage often win more than 90% of the time.  Candidates holding both the Apple and the Post, whether or not they are incumbents, are nearly a lock.  The one recent exception was in 2016, when at-large incumbent Phil Kauffman had both the Apple and the Post and was still defeated by former Paint Branch High School Principal Jeanette Dixon.  In that race, Kauffman earned the Apple Ballot after the primary and the Post did not endorse him until October, possibly weakening the value of those endorsements.

These three factors don’t explain everything, but they explain a lot.  While it’s possible to win without any of these advantages, as Dixon demonstrated, it’s very difficult.  Keep an eye on these keys as this year’s school board races move forward.

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A Pattern in the Absentee Ballots?

By Adam Pagnucco.

All eyes in political MoCo are on the County Executive race, which will be decided by absentee and provisional ballots.  After the first absentee canvass, Marc Elrich’s lead over David Blair has declined from 492 votes to 149 votes, guaranteeing an absolute squeaker of a finish.  Lots of folks are asking why.  A preliminary analysis of absentee voting data suggests one reason: for the most part, candidates endorsed by MCEA, of whom Elrich is one, are performing slightly less well in absentee voting than in early voting and election day voting.

The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), which represents MCPS teachers, has historically been the most powerful interest group in MoCo elections.  Its political program has combined mail and poll coverage where its mighty Apple Ballot is distributed.  This year, its mail program has been partially diverted to the Governor’s race (where the union helped pay for three mailers on behalf of Ben Jealous) and Congress District 6 (where the union sent three mailers for Aruna Miller).  Its remaining mailers were one for its State Legislative District 16 endorsees (one of whom was teacher Samir Paul), one for its Council At-Large endorsees (one of whom was teacher Chris Wilhelm) and one with the Apple Ballot itself.  The latter mailer was the only one to include Marc Elrich, who was endorsed late.  In past years in which races for Governor and Congress were not an issue, MCEA’s mail program was entirely focused on state legislative and county races.

Alterations to the mail program may explain variations in absentee ballot voting.  People who vote early, on election day and through provisional ballots may encounter Apple Ballot poll coverage.  And it’s not just MCEA who distributes it; candidates who are featured on it often distribute it too.  But absentee voters do not go to a polling place.  They must be contacted through other means.  As stated above, MCEA’s mailers were drawn into races for Congress and Governor and if the union has a robust digital program, we have not seen it.  All of this means that absentee voters in General Assembly and county-level races are less likely to be influenced by the Apple.

The table below shows sixteen close performances in county races between Apple-endorsed and non-Apple candidates.  (We excluded incumbents to remove any incumbent effect on absentee voting.)  In each race, the margin between the two in election and early voting results is shown alongside the margin in the first absentee canvass.  (Both sets of results are unofficial and there will be another absentee canvass.)  In eleven of these sixteen races, Apple-endorsed candidate performance declined in absentee voting.

Now some of these races have other things going on.  In Congress District 6, Aruna Miller benefited from MCEA’s three mailers and her performance actually rose a tiny bit among absentees.  In the gubernatorial race, a clear outlier, Rushern Baker may have benefited from the Washington Post’s strong endorsement.  (This year, the Post did not endorse in Congressional or state legislative races.)  David Blair got not one, but two Post endorsements.  Elrich’s late endorsement from MCEA handicapped his ability to publicize it, which may have impacted absentee voters.  And so on.

The Apple Ballot is arguably the best endorsement in the county.  Blair would already have won the Executive race if Elrich had not received it.  But the data above, however tentative it is, suggests a pattern: the Apple has been slightly less effective in absentee voting.  The median performance drop is 1.4 points.  The mean performance drop excluding the outlier race for Governor is 1.3 points.  So let’s round it in rough terms to a point-and-a-half decline.  That’s not enough to affect most races but it is having an impact on the razor-thin contests for County Executive and House 16.  MCEA should consider this in designing its future political programs.

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The Wilhelm Ballot

By Adam Pagnucco.

Here is something we haven’t seen before: a mid-term year Apple Ballot with one candidate occupying one side of it and a list of others on the other side.  This Apple, still in wrapping, is customized in favor of Council At-Large candidate Chris Wilhelm.

Here is another one spotlighting District 16 House candidate Samir Paul.

The Apple we were given at the Wheaton early voting site was not like these.  It had county candidates on one side and state candidates on the other, a typical format used in the past.

Wilhelm and Paul are MCPS teachers.  We totally get why MCEA would like to elect its own members to office, although that has not always been their top priority.  For example, the union endorsed County Council District 5 incumbent Derick Berlage over MCPS teacher Marc Elrich in 1998.  In Elrich’s 2002 and 2006 races, he did appear on the Apple but we don’t recall him getting an entire side of it to himself.

The races involving Paul and Wilhelm are very different.  In District 16, the two incumbent Delegates – Ariana Kelly and Marc Korman – are endorsed by MCEA and a lock for reelection.  Paul is in a tight contest with fellow new candidate Sara Love for the open seat being vacated by Delegate Bill Frick.  He needs every edge he can get.

The Council At-Large race, on the other hand, is extremely competitive and unpredictable.  MCEA has endorsed incumbent Hans Riemer, Brandy Brooks and Will Jawando in addition to Wilhelm.  Riemer seems likely to be reelected but that’s about all that can be safely predicted in this race.  What will Riemer, Brooks and Jawando think of the Wilhelm Ballot?

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MCEA Endorses Council Incumbents

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), which represents MCPS teachers, has endorsed four County Council Members running for reelection: Craig Rice (District 2), Nancy Navarro (District 4), Tom Hucker (District 5) and Hans Riemer (At-Large).  The only Council Member running for reelection this year who has not been endorsed by MCEA is Sidney Katz (District 3).  The union has previously endorsed Katz’s opponent, Ben Shnider.

Also, MCEA has not endorsed in the County Executive race and may ultimately not do so.  That would echo the 2006 Executive primary, when neither Ike Leggett nor Steve Silverman could reach the union’s 58% threshold for support in its Representative Assembly.

We reprint MCEA’s press release below.

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For Immediate Release:

May 3, 2018

Contact:  Nikki Woodward

Anzer.woodward@gmail.com

MONTGOMERY COUNTY EDUCATION ASSOCIATION ANNOUNCES NEW COUNTY ENDORSEMENTS

The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), which represents more than 14,000 classroom teachers, guidance counselors, speech pathologists, media specialists, and other non-supervisory certified educators in the Montgomery County Public Schools system, has endorsed several candidates for elected office in Montgomery County.  Endorsed candidates will appear on MCEA’s “Apple Ballot” for the 2018 primary and general elections.

COUNTY COUNCIL AT LARGE:

Hans Riemer (new), Brandy Brooks, Chris Wilhelm, Will Jawando

COUNTY COUNCIL (DISTRICT):

District 1: Ana Sol Gutierrez

District 2: Craig Rice (new)

District 3: Ben Shnider

District 4: Nancy Navarro (new)

District 5 Tom Hucker (new)

BOARD OF EDUCATION AT LARGE:

Karla Silvestre

BOARD OF EDUCATION (DISTRICT):

District 1:  Dr. Judith (Judy) Docca

District 2:  Patricia (Pat) O’Neill

District 5:  Brenda Wolf

MCEA has not yet endorsed a candidate for County Executive for the June primary.

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