Tag Archives: MCEA

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’s Awkward Alliance

This year, the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) – the teachers union – decided to support Ben Jealous for governor. Fine, so far.

But this just got very awkward after last night’s education forum. Except for Rich Madaleno from Montgomery, all of the other candidates, including Ben Jealous, embraced a new wealth based formula for education funding that just kills Montgomery.

I imagine it also does little for affluent Howard. The new formula  zeros out funding for Talbot, Kent, and Worcester counties. Not only would it eliminate all no state aid for these three Eastern Shore jurisdictions, it also would require all that money to be made up in local taxes. Every penny cut would be required by state law to be replaced by local funds.

If there is one thing MCEA opposes, it’s cutting funds for Montgomery County Public Schools. Now, they’re supporting a candidate who wants to siphon large sums of money away from Montgomery to other jurisdictions.

Beyond the large number of portable classrooms, Montgomery faces a growing number of students who need extra help for a variety of reasons but who don’t come from families with a lot of extra money to help pick up the slack.

In the past, Adam Pagnucco has written about state funding formulas are already skewed against Montgomery, even as we face burgeoning problems in the public schools. Separately, a hike in the millionaires tax, paid primarily by Montgomery, has helped fund a burst of construction in Baltimore and elsewhere in the State.

The changes endorsed by all candidates except Madaleno would massively undermine efforts by Montgomery to address the achievement gap here. Indeed, the County would be hard pressed to maintain its current commitment with the size of cuts proposed, as Adam has explained well in a piece aptly titled “Hell, No!”

While this is awkward for Montgomery advocates of greater state school funding who support a variety of candidates, I imagine it might dismay county officials who support Rushern Baker at least partly in the hope that the D.C. area would get more attention to its increasingly serious needs.

But the problem is particularly acute for MCEA. They’ve found themselves behind a candidate whose platform would result in enormous pressure on the salaries and pensions of their members or force major cuts elsewhere in an already pressed county budget despite county efforts for years to protect education funding.

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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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