Category Archives: MCEA

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.

*****

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.

-30-30-30-

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Teachers Make New State Legislative Endorsements

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) has made a new round of endorsements in state legislative races, conferring the influential Apple Ballot on the following House candidates.

District 15: Kevin Mack

District 17: Kumar Barve, Julie Palakovich Carr, Julian Haffner

District 18: Jared Solomon

District 19: Marlin Jenkins, Vaughn Stewart

District 20: Darian Unger

District 39: Gabriel Acevero

Combining these endorsements with those previously announced, the teachers are now supporting non-incumbents Mack, Palakovich Carr, Haffner, Solomon, Jenkins, Stewart, Unger, Acevero and District 16 House candidate Samir Paul (who is an MCPS teacher) along with all the state-level incumbents running for reelection except for Delegates Jim Gilchrist (D-17) and Marice Morales (D-19).  At the county level, the union has endorsed Ana Sol Gutierrez in Council District 1, Ben Shnider in Council District 3 and Brandy Brooks, Will Jawando and Chris Wilhelm (another MCPS teacher) for Council At-Large while postponing action on most county incumbents.

We find it interesting that Gilchrist (who the teachers endorsed in 2010 and 2014) and Morales (who was not endorsed in her first race last time) were the only two incumbents running for reelection who were not supported.  Also, the teachers have left one vacant slot in the strongly contested District 18 House race that may or may not be filled and chose not to support Board of Education Member Rebecca Smondrowski, who is running for Delegate in District 17.  Depending on what is said about those issues, we may have further comment soon.

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MoCo Endorsements: March 9, 2018

By Adam Pagnucco.

We have entered the thick of endorsement season and a big one just came out: a partial decision by MCEA, holder of the mighty Apple Ballot.  We have updated our institutional endorsement matrix and offer some comments below.

First, a note.  Many of the listed endorsing organizations have not finished their processes and may be announcing more decisions in the future.  Other important organizations (like the Washington Post, the Realtors and the Volunteer Fire Fighters) have not endorsed yet at all.  So this list is a work in progress.

That said, here are a few impressions.

Senator Roger Manno, who might be the most pro-union member of the entire General Assembly, is sweeping labor endorsements in his run for Congress District 6.  How far will that take him against Delegate Aruna Miller and Total Wine co-owner David Trone?

Council Member Marc Elrich, who is running for Executive, has put together an impressive string of progressive endorsements and he will be getting more of them.  He is definitely the favored Executive candidate of the left.

Ben Shnider, who is challenging District 3 County Council candidate Sidney Katz, has also become a darling of the left.  Will that be enough to take out Katz, who has been the most prominent politician in Gaithersburg for decades?  We will have an opinion on that in the near future.

Will Jawando, who is running for Council At-Large, has had a great six weeks.  He is the only non-incumbent who has assembled four influential institutional endorsements, including the Apple.  (Chris Wilhelm has three and Danielle Meitiv and Brandy Brooks have two each.)  Combine that with Jawando’s fundraising success, electoral experience and natural charisma and he is looking strong right now.

The good news for Delegate Jeff Waldstreicher, who is running for the District 18 Senate seat being vacated by Rich Madaleno, is that he is dominating the institutional endorsements over Dana Beyer and Michelle Carhart.  The bad news is that his dispute with House candidate Helga Luest is escalating.  Women are 60% of MoCo Democrats and this is a particularly bad cycle to run afoul of them.

While MCEA has made some county-level endorsements, it has postponed its decision on the incumbents (except for Sidney Katz).  The teachers are unhappy with recent MCPS budget decisions made by the County Council, especially with the breaking of their collective bargaining agreement two years ago.  With Ike Leggett’s recommended budget coming next week, we will learn more about what might happen to MCPS this year and that will affect the union’s thinking.  The remaining non-incumbents in the Council At-Large race will be paying rapt attention!

Speaking of the At-Large race, we wrote last April that the sole incumbent running, Hans Riemer, was going to be reelected.  We still believe that will happen and so do most of the folks running in his race.  But what happens if he is passed over by both the Apple Ballot and the Post?  The Apple is skeptical of council incumbents right now.  As for the Post, the newspaper endorsed Riemer in the 2014 primary in part because it said challenger Beth Daly was “dead wrong.”  But it dumped Riemer for a no-name Republican in the general election, saying he was “a first-termer with modest achievements.”  The Post has a lot more options in the 2018 At-Large field than it did last time.  Then throw in the facts that there are a lot of good folks in the At-Large race and Riemer’s name will be appearing near the end of a VERY long ballot.  If Riemer loses both the Apple and the Post and the hungry field of non-incumbents continues to impress, is he still a lock to win?  (Disclosure: your author used to work for Riemer.)

That’s it for now.  We’ll have more when the next wave of endorsements comes in!

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MCEA Endorses Kagan, Kramer and Waldstreicher

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) has endorsed three MoCo Senate candidates: Cheryl Kagan (D-17), Ben Kramer (D-19) and Jeff Waldstreicher (D-18).  Kagan is an incumbent who is running unopposed.  Kramer is a Delegate running for the Senate seat being vacated by Roger Manno, who is running for Congress.  So far, Kramer’s sole opponent is a Green Party member.

Waldstreicher is a Delegate who is running for the Senate seat being vacated by Rich Madaleno, who is running for Governor.   Waldstreicher now has the support of MCEA, MCGEO, the Sierra Club, SEIU Local 32BJ, the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Fire Fighters Local 1664 and Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35.  Dana Beyer, his principal opponent, has been endorsed by SEIU Local 500.

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Team MoCo

By Adam Pagnucco.

Yesterday, we wrote about the recent history of MCPS and it was not a pretty picture.  The recession, new state laws, political conflict and the erosion of a once-strong consensus around the public schools resulted in MCPS getting lower funding increases than most of the rest of county government, especially when measured in local dollars.  But the good news here is that change is coming to MoCo with the sheer number of open seats in county elected offices.  There is a better way forward.  And today, we will plot out what that way can be.

First, let’s steal a page from the playbook of former MCPS Head Coach Jerry Weast and recognize this: nothing brings folks together like a common enemy.  The Axis powers brought together America and the Soviet Union.  The New England Patriots brought together nearly all NFL fans without ties to the Greater Boston area to root for the not-quite-as-bad Philadelphia Eagles.  And Donald Trump may just bring together the feuding members of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, who hate Trump more than they dislike each other.

The various factions of MoCo’s education family do not have a common enemy, but they do have a common challenge: dealing with Annapolis.  The state capital poses three problems for MoCo’s public schools.  First, the state has a Governor who has cut education funding before (especially state aid for MoCo) and is doing it again.  Second, while the state has improved recently, it still short changes MoCo on school construction money and the county cannot keep up with capacity needs on its own.  And third, a consultant advising the state’s Kirwan Commission on education reform has recommended massive cuts to state operating aid to MCPS.  If all three of these things proceed in a baleful direction, MCPS’s funding issues will get a lot worse and the entire county – parents, students, school employees, residents and businesses – will pay a steep price.

When you get past the details of MCPS’s recent money problems, one root cause stands out: political division in the wake of Weast’s departure.  The County Executive, the County Council, MCPS leadership, the MCPS unions and the PTAs all have different priorities and different views on MCPS funding, and they often go in different directions.  That has to stop or things won’t change.  We need a Team MoCo.  And here’s what that looks like.

County Council

The council has one job when it comes to the schools: funding them.  And since the schools are both a critical public policy priority as well as a big political priority for the voters, their funding situation must improve from the last eight years.  The council largely got this right in its FY18 budget, which gave MCPS a modest (roughly $20 million) increase over the state’s Maintenance of Effort requirement.  The policy of regular, modest per pupil local dollar increases that will – at the very least – keep pace with MCPS’s costs and needs should continue.

The council must not get involved in sensitive internal MCPS issues, especially in pressuring the system on its collective bargaining agreements.  Blowing up the union contracts in 2016 was a major mistake and caused a serious breach of trust.  Let MCPS management and the unions decide what the agreements look like in the context of their total budget.  If the council does not stay out of this, Team MoCo will crumble and the entire arrangement will fall apart.

Superintendent and Board of Education

If the council gives MCPS leadership the funding it needs, then MCPS leadership must reciprocate by giving the council what it needs: fiscal stability.  The state’s Maintenance of Effort (MOE) law, which was rewritten in 2012, sets each year’s local dollar per pupil funding as a base for future years.  Every time the base goes up, it becomes a new base and can only be lowered by a waiver from the State Board of Education.  This is a major concern for the council and was partially responsible for several years of per pupil cuts and freezes.  Given the immense implications of this for the county’s budget and AAA bond rating, the council is right to be wary of going too far above MOE.

Fortunately, § 5-202 (d) (9) of the state’s education law specifies that the State Board of Education shall grant an MOE waiver “in the amount that has been agreed on by the county and county board that is attributable to reductions in recurring costs.”  In other words, if the county falls into another big recession and it has to cut costs in the school system along with all the other agencies, it can get a waiver if the school board agrees.  This deal must be honored by MCPS: if the council extends its trust by funding them, MCPS must agree to reciprocate by helping to relieve the county of financial stress in dire circumstances.  Both sides must stick to this or relations will revert to the bad old years.

MCPS Unions and PTAs

MCEA and SEIU Local 500 are two of the most powerful players in county politics.  The PTAs do not endorse candidates, but they have listservs that include thousands of parents and therefore – at least in theory – have a big voice.  These organizations should function as the muscle of Team MoCo.  They will be getting regular funding increases and, in return, they should help the Team pressure Annapolis to get what is needed for the county.

MoCo Delegation

If Team MoCo gets its act together and strikes an equitable deal for local funding for the schools, the remaining challenges lie in Annapolis.  Rockville does not understand Annapolis.  It does not fully appreciate the obstacles faced by the delegation in pursuing county priorities: the perception of MoCo by the rest of the state as paved in gold; the competing priorities of other population centers in the state; the constraining effect of the legislature’s leadership; and the fiscal constraints of the state’s own tight budget.  Given those hurdles, it’s a heavy lift for the delegation to bring back Big Bacon to MoCo.  But it can be done: witness the Baltimore City delegation’s victory in getting the state to pump a billion dollars into the city’s school construction program.  The city legislators are not smarter than MoCo’s legislators (although they are more parochial).  A big reason for their win was that the entire city stuck together, from the Mayor to the City Council to the city legislators to the folks back home who wanted the money.  Team Baltimore got a billion dollars.  We need a Team MoCo to do something similar.

The role of the county leadership and its constituent groups is to set a mark for the delegation and do everything possible to help them stay organized and succeed.  This is not easy; the other jurisdictions and the presiding officers won’t just roll over for us.  Every member of Team MoCo has to tell our delegation with one unified voice, “We have your backs.  We know it’s a lift, but if you come through for us, we will celebrate you like the heroes you are.  You will never have to buy a drink for yourselves in Rockville ever again.  And if you don’t come through, you will not be served a drink in Rockville ever again!”  Good performance must be rewarded.  Bad performance must be met with accountability.

One more thing: the delegation has an ace card.  Senate President Mike Miller and Speaker Mike Busch are not going to run the General Assembly for much longer.  Successors to their thrones are making the rounds and lining up votes, however quietly.  The MoCo legislators should tell all of them that whoever gives the county the best deal on schools will lock up all their votes.  It’s huge leverage that should not be wasted, but it will only be used if it pays off in political terms.  Team MoCo’s job is to make sure it does pay off so the Big Bacon gets served.

County Executive

This is the most critical person in this entire endeavor.  Every team needs a Captain.  In MoCo, that has to be the Executive.  This individual is the county’s spokesperson and the one everybody else will inevitably look to for leadership.  The Executive must be a troubleshooter who works out periodic squabbles between the different members of the family, charts out a general course on budgets and state action and makes sure everyone gets the credit they deserve.  Most of all, the Executive must be a LEADER.  The lesson from the aftermath of Weast is that without central leadership, everything can fall apart.  If we pick the right Executive, that won’t happen and Team MoCo can succeed.

And so if everything works out, everyone wins.  The county gets its fair share from the state.  MCPS stakeholders get the funding they need.  MCPS employees get fair compensation and the resources they need to do their jobs.  The elected officials get to be heroes.  And the county as a whole will maintain its status as one of the best places to live on Planet Earth.

We can do it, folks.  Yes we can!  If you agree, ask the candidates how they intend to play on our team and keep it in mind for Election Day.  Team MoCo will only come together if the voters demand it.

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Where Will the Apple Drop?

By Adam Pagnucco.

Many moons ago, when your author was young and blissfully new to the county, we wrote our very first blog post on the mighty Apple Ballot.  It was unimaginatively titled, “The 800 lb Gorilla of MoCo Politics.”  Then as now, the Apple was one of the most coveted endorsements in MoCo.  But my oh my, so much has changed.

Back in the Age of the Golden Apple, the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) was the centerpiece of a powerful political organization created by then-Superintendent Jerry Weast.  Weast was not a pro-union progressive by nature, but he understood that politics is a team sport and it was necessary to play it to get money.  So the Weast Machine included the education unions (MCEA, SEIU and the principals), the PTAs, the Washington Post editorial page and the school system’s internal Ministry of Propaganda.  (That was not its title, but you get the point!)  Weast traded real input in the MCPS budget for stakeholders in return for absolute loyalty in joint combat against the outside – especially the County Council.  Anyone who messed with the school system didn’t take on Weast alone – they had to go against the entire Machine.  Weast capitalized on his organization as well as productive relationships with County Executive Doug Duncan and County Council Education Committee Chair Mike Subin to get substantial and regular budget increases.  The whole system was greased by strong revenue growth and occasional tax hikes.

The District 18/Silver Spring version of the Apple Ballot from 2006.  This is the document that began your author’s career in blogging.

Those days are long gone.  Three major changes have occurred over the last ten years.

First, Weast jumped the shark – not once, but twice.  His first big sin was calling union leaders to his house to ask them to endorse Nancy Navarro in the 2008 Council District 4 special election.  That attracted criticism from multiple Council Members as inappropriate conduct by an appointed non-partisan administrator.  His second big sin was threatening to sue the county over a budget disagreement two years later.  These kinds of behavior helped convince Weast’s adversaries that he was not merely an irritant, but an actual threat, and prompted some to brand him a Rogue Superintendent.  That set the stage for the bitter budget battles to come.

Second, the county and regional economies were greatly weakened in the wake of the Great Recession.  The chart below shows growth in county revenue (excluding intergovernmental aid) over the last twenty years.  Red bars indicate years in which major tax hikes were passed.  From FY98 through FY09, a generally prosperous economy helped county revenues grow by an annual average of 6.2%.  But from FY10 through FY18, the days of the Great Recession and beyond, county revenues grew by an annual average of 3.1%.  (That does not include the recent $120 million budget shortfall.)  There is simply not as much money to go around as there used to be.  Accordingly, revitalizing the economy should be a huge policy objective for all of the county’s employee unions and everyone else who cares about funding local government.

Third, the local money that was available was not as directed to MCPS as it once was.  There are many reasons for that: the Holy War that broke out between the County Council and the school system in Weast’s final days; dissatisfaction with changes to the state’s Maintenance of Effort law; the state’s execrable decision to shift part of the teacher pension burden down to the counties, which is costing MoCo tens of millions of dollars every year and stifling funding for other priorities; and the growth of many other needs in the county’s budget.  Council Member Nancy Floreen defended the county’s record on MCPS funding and your author offered a reply.

Whatever the reasons, MCPS has not received operating fund increases commensurate with most of the rest of the government in recent years.  The chart below shows budgetary growth by major department and agency from FY10, the peak year before the Great Recession, through FY18.  The effects of the recently approved mid-year savings plan are shown at right.  Note that the time period includes the recession itself, the recovery years afterwards and the FY17 9% property tax hike which was marketed as a boost for education.  MCPS’s total funding increased by 13% over these eight years, roughly half the 25% increase for the total county government.  Non-local funding for the schools, the huge majority of which is state aid, went up by 33%.  But local funding for the schools went up by just 6% as the county spent its own money disproportionately on other activities.  Meanwhile, MCPS’s enrollment went up by 15% during this period.

The Weast Machine has been shattered.  Its demise was due to the decline of the economy, conscious policy choices by county decision makers and, ironically, because of the school system’s own leadership as well.  The key moment came in the spring of 2016, when the County Council conditioned its offer of a substantial increase in MCPS funding on a requirement that it go to reducing class size and not to increasing teacher compensation.  The Weast Machine would have resisted that condition, but the system’s leadership agreed to it.  And so the council voted unanimously to instruct the school system to shift $37 million from employee compensation to class size reduction and the school system reduced teacher raises to comply.  The legacy of this moment is that there is no longer a united front between MCPS leaders and their unions – a major loss of leverage in the school system’s dealings with county electeds.  The end result was not so great for the council either as voters, displeased by the big tax hike that year and not mollified by the compensation changes, went on to overwhelmingly approve term limits.

MCEA runs a Facebook ad against the $25 million mid-year cut to MCPS.  The union flooded a town hall meeting with the County Executive to protest it but the County Council approved the cut unanimously.

MCEA will be deciding its 2018 endorsements for county office in the weeks to come.  In the contested races for County Executive, Council At-Large and Council Districts 1 and 3, the mighty Apple Ballot could play a huge role.  Where will the Apple drop?  That depends on how MCEA answers the following two questions.

What to Do With the Incumbents?

Incumbents usually win and MCEA has endorsed the majority of them, including ones who were lukewarm on their issues, in the past.  But in this case, most of the incumbent Council Members voted for multiple very tough budgets, all of them supported reducing teacher raises as a condition of approving more MCPS funding and all of them just voted for a $25 million mid-year cut to MCPS.  Can those strikes be offset by other considerations?

How to Find Someone Better?

Let’s be fair to the incumbents: the recession, the new Maintenance of Effort law and the partial shift of teacher pension funding to the counties created very hard choices.  No matter what they did, the incumbents would have offended someone.  Would the legions of challengers now vying for the Apple’s attention really have done better?  Which ones among them understand the very real and very complicated budget issues that face policy makers?  Which ones will aggressively pursue economic revival, which is necessary for financing all county services – not just MCPS – and supporting justified raises for county employees?  Which ones have the competence to deliver and the character to fight for teachers, parents and students alike?

When those questions are answered, we will know where the Apple drops.

End Note: For those who wish to study MCPS’s funding history, we reprint the following graphic from the County Executive’s recommended FY18 budget below.

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MSEA Makes Early Endorsements

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) has made early endorsements in state legislative races.  The endorsement of MSEA and its local affiliate, the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), deploys the mighty Apple Ballot, one of the most powerful tools in MoCo politics.  The endorsements below are just the first batch and more will follow later.

In MoCo, the teachers are now supporting:

District 14: Senator Craig Zucker, Delegates Eric Luedtke, Pam Queen and Anne Kaiser

District 15: Senator Brian Feldman, Delegates Kathleen Dumais and David Fraser-Hidalgo

District 16: Senator Susan Lee, Delegates Marc Korman and Ariana Kelly and MCEA member Samir Paul

District 18: Delegate Al Carr

District 19: Delegate Bonnie Collision

District 20: Senator Will Smith, Delegates David Moon and Jheanelle Wilkins

District 39: Senator Nancy King, Delegates Kirill Reznik and Shane Robinson

All of the above are incumbents except Samir Paul, who is an MCPS teacher and MCEA member running in District 16.  None of them are surprises.  The teachers’ endorsement decisions on open seats and contested races will be very interesting.  We are sure that every candidate is waiting with bated breath!

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It’s Official: MCEA Drops Barclay

Interestingly, this decision leaves MCEA without an endorsed candidate in Council District 5. Unlike SEIU, they did not make the jump from Barclay to Hucker.

From MCEA’s Website:

Delegates attending today’s monthly meeting of the MCEA Representative Assembly have voted to rescind their recommendation of Christopher Barclay in the race for the District 5 seat on the Montgomery County Council. MCEA President Doug Prouty issued the following statement:

“As teachers and childhood educators, we hold ourselves to the highest of standards. It is what our community expects of all those in public service. We also believe that Chris Barclay has been – and we hope will continue to be – an important voice for our county’s neediest students, schools and neighborhoods.  Nevertheless, we regretfully withdraw MCEA’s recommendation of Mr. Barclay in the June 24th primary election for the vacant County Council District 5 office. We look forward to continuing to work with Chris as a member of the Board of Education. We believe that he – and we – can continue to be strong partners in focusing resources and attention on the challenge of closing student achievement gaps and narrowing the growing income gaps in our community. We believe Chris can have a good future in public service in the county. But in light of the recent news and financial disclosures, we cannot recommend him in this race at this time”.

The Representative Assembly consists of elected MCEA representatives from schools and worksites across the county. Approximately 130 MCEA Representatives participated in today’s discussion and decision. This action, like all candidate recommendations, required approval of a super-majority (58%) of those voting.

Approval of this motion by the MCEA Representative Assembly leaves the Association with no position in the Council 5 race.

 

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