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A small crowd turned out to hear from Charles County Board of Education candidates Tuesday night at Thomas Stone High School.

The Waldorf high school’s dance team and student government association coordinated the forum to allow voters the opportunity to learn about the candidates for school board.

Souritha Stoutamire, 18, president of Stone’s SGA, said the two student organizations put together the forum as a way to let others see the people behind the names on the ballot.

“If you don’t know who you are voting for, you are voting blindly,” she said.

Of the 20 candidates for school board, 13 participated.

Dance team member Lacy Johnson, 18, said after the forum that she wanted to see what it was the candidates had to offer that would help the school system.

Each candidate briefly addressed the audience and were asked to hit on their qualifications, the school system’s strengths and challenges facing schools.

Derrick Terry listed his qualifications as having been a student, having been in the military and being a teacher among others. As a teacher, he said, “I am in the trenches.” He said he understands what teachers, support staff, janitors and administrators go through, and, most importantly, “I understand what students go through.”

Former teachers Margaret T. Marshall and Robert Michael Pitts listed their many years experience in the school system as qualifications, and current educators Michael A. Wilson, Mark Crawford and Virginia “Ginny” McGraw also drew from their experiences being on the front line with educators.

School funding was a hot topic among the candidates. Victoria “Vicki” Talley Kelly said, “Currently, I don’t think our funding formula works as we haven’t been able to keep our promises to our teachers by paying them their promised step and scale increases.”

She recommended working closely with the state to come up with a more fitting formula.

Crawford suggested a zero balance budget to account for every dollar spent.

In terms of growth, incumbent Michael K. Lukas spoke of a need to fund not only new schools down the line but to repair aging structures. Lukas suggested working with the county commissioners, local delegation to the state legislature and other school boards as the need becomes increasingly more critical.

Marcus N. Tillman also pointed to growth as a challenge for the system and suggested getting more stakeholders involved to help resolve the ongoing concern of rezoning students.

Incumbent Jennifer S. Abell addressed overdevelopment in Charles County as a concern and explained her participation in a committee put together to look into the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance.

Overdeveloping, she said, “is not the board of education’s fault. It is the commissioners overdeveloping and approving.”

One strength coming out of the forum was the system’s teachers and leadership.

Barbara Palko said she would advocate to continue to have collaborative leadership, something she sees with the current school board.

“The new board must continue to have community trust in that leadership,” she said.

Teachers’ pay represented a challenge among candidates.

Wilson said with continued growth, not only are teachers underpaid but also overworked.

Jason Henry Sr. pointed to students as a strength in the system, pulling on his 18 years experience working with youth in the county. If elected, Henry pledged to give half of his board salary to youth organizations.

Marshall recognized the students who organized the forum and said, “I think one of the greatest strengths of our school system is its youth.”

Richard Wallace stressed the need for students to have a postsecondary degree and be prepared for the 21st century. He said he supports expanding technical training in schools so that “more kids are able to partake in the excellent training that we have, for example, at North Point High School.”

Pitts also looked at students’ futures, stressing the need for more technological literacy and to produce critical thinkers that understand technology.

He said test scores have gone up in recent years and use of technology in instruction has improved, but “we must do more,” he said.

Candidates addressed concerns with education reform such as the Maryland Career and College Readiness curriculum, formerly known as Common Core State Standards. Because of that change, McGraw said, the school curriculum is changing as are assessments, leaving many adjustments for staff and students moving forward.

“I believe that as a school board member it would be my responsibility to provide support in the form of materials, resources, professional development and technology to get the job done,” she said.

Candidates also recommended better informing parents of the changes to help ease transitions.

After the formal portion of the forum, voters had an opportunity to visit with candidates one on one in the school’s gym.

Parents Michelle Sawall and Anne Boelke said they came to the forum out of curiosity and to learn about the candidates. They both said one thing that could have been better during the candidate speeches was if more of them provided information as to where to go to find more information on their campaign.

gphillips@somdnews.com