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Six candidates running for three school board seats are providing a lesson in a basic rule of physics: Two objects (in this case candidates for the school board) cannot occupy the same space (a seat on the board) at the same time (after the Nov. 6 election).

To help voters decide which three will fill the available jobs, the school board candidates faced off Tuesday night during a forum in front of about 80 people to discuss their views on discipline, vouchers, the budget and other education issues.

The last day to register to vote in the Nov. 6 general election is next Tuesday, Oct. 16.

Three challengers touted the need for change and fresh ideas, while three incumbents defended their records and highlighted what they called improvements made to local schools in recent year at the forum held at Great Mills High School and sponsored by the St. Mary’s County League of Women Voters.

“The board of education is lacking a very important voice, the voice of a parent with children in the school system,” said James Tomasic, who is challenging incumbent Marilyn Crosby for the at-large seat. “I am the parent’s voice and the parent’s choice.”

Jim Davis, who is challenging incumbent Cathy Allen for the District 2 seat representing the Hollywood and Leonardtown areas, touted his decades of experience in business and education, referring to himself as a “seasoned professional” and financially conservative.

Joel Rose, an active duty military member running against incumbent Mary Washington for the District 4 seat representing Lexington Park and Great Mills areas, said, “I am a candidate that speaks from the heart.”

He said he has three boys who attend George Washington Carver Elementary School.

“We can bring our community forward, but only if we put together a team that represents our community beliefs,” Rose said. “I promise that I will listen and learn.”

Allen said, “I’ve been consistently active in the school system since soon after our arrival” in St. Mary’s County in 1996. “I’m a frequent visitor to school so I know why we do what we do and how we do it.”

“When you think of me, think of experience,” Crosby said, referring to her 24 years of teaching at various grade levels.

“You are my boss and I love working for you,” Washington told the audience. “This is my only job and I don’t have to ask anyone for time off to do my sworn duty.” Washington said she has fought for employees’ jobs to remain even during budget cuts, including keeping kindergarten paraeducators.

Rose said too many of St. Mary’s schools are overcrowded. “You need to look into the budget at the little things [to cut] to add up to allow more paraeducators and more teachers to come into our schools,” Rose said.

Rose was asked to clarify a statement made earlier in the forum about certain subjects that teachers are forced to teach. He said he was referring to new diversity lessons. “That’s one of those subjects I don’t feel should have specific lesson plans,” Rose said, adding that it takes control away from parents. He did say that a “general, broad view [of diversity tolerance] is OK.”

The candidates were asked about the recent switch of temporary workers at the schools to a private temp agency. The three incumbents said they did not like the process involved in moving the workers from school employees to employees of the temp agency just before the start of the school year, which they said was done in a rush. Each said they voiced their disagreement with the superintendent and school board chair over how the issue was handled.

“I indicated it should not be an item that was glossed over,” Allen said.

Washington said the school system does not have the $4.5 million that would be needed to move the workers to full-time status as school employees.

“I did not get enough time to study the issue,” said Crosby, who cast the lone vote against the move in August.

Challengers said that while the move may have been needed, it may have been done in the wrong way.

“It was kind of rushed through,” Tomasic said. “A lot of that kind of stuff is happening. ... It was not done very smartly.”

Rose said moving the workers was fine, if it helps students.

When asked what problems are facing the school system, Tomasic of Dameron said that the data presented to parents is often not useful. For instance, he said the scores reported on some state standardized tests showing an eighth-grader is reading at a proficient level, can actually indicate that he or she is only reading at a sixth-grade level.

“My investment is not just an on-off switch. I’ve been doing it for 20 years,” Tomasic, who is an engineer and father of five, said, adding that he would devote as much time as needed to the school board if elected.

Tomasic said that his oldest son did participate in a dual enrollment program with the College of Southern Maryland.

He said he was not sure that program should be pushed down to earlier grades, as proposed in the new Fast Track program, which will allow students to earn an associate’s degree from CSM at the same time they are working for their high school diploma.

Crosby took that opportunity to confront Tomasic, “you can’t have it both ways” by criticizing programs his child participated in.

She also told Tomasic that she had not seen him at school board meetings, as he said earlier.

“Mr. Tomasic, I have not seen you at one board meeting,” she said.

Other school board members and Tomasic later said that he has attended some school board meetings, including budget forums, over the years.

Tomasic said board members need to “be in the know,” and that he can fill that role as a parent and as a recommended candidate of the local teachers’ union. Washington and Allen were also endorsed by the Education Association of St. Mary’s County.

Davis said that the federal government’s sequestration, which could kick in unless Congress acts before Jan. 2 and would result in across-the-board cuts to military and other federally funded programs, could have tremendous impact on county funding through loss in taxes that would negatively impact schools.

When asked what needs to be changed in regard to school board policy, Davis said that board members need to start to “ask the real tough questions.”

Davis stood alone in his support of a school voucher system, saying they could benefit children if managed properly.

“I would not be supportive of this,” Allen said, adding that St. Mary’s public schools already offer different pathways for students. “I think we have the best of both worlds.”

Ending the forum, Davis said that citizens should vote for him to free up his opponent’s time to run for a higher office. “She’s done such a great job, I can see her as our next state senator.” Allen said after the forum that she has no plans to seek a state office.

The six St. Mary’s County school board candidates are scheduled to appear at another forum beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 18, at Leonardtown High School.

jyeatman@somdnews.com