A significant figure in the history of the Calvert County Board of Education passed away over Labor Day weekend.
On Monday, the president of the Calvert County commissioners announced the death of William J. Phalen Sr., 79, the current school board president.
“He spent many years of service to Calvert County,” Commissioner Kelly McConkey (R) wrote on his Facebook page, adding that it was an “honor to serve on the school board with him.”
Phalen, who was serving the second year of a four-year term, had been absent from the last several school board meetings.
“We at Calvert County Public Schools extend our sympathy to the family of William J. Phalen, Sr., president of the board of education,” school system officials tweeted late Tuesday afternoon. “Bill served the CCPS community with integrity and a commitment to creating opportunities for students. During his 23 years on the board, first as an appointee of the governor in 1993 and then elected by his constituents, he was a passionate advocate for the arts in education. We will miss his leadership, his perspective and his work for the greater good of the school system.”
As a result of a 1995 referendum, Calvert County began its transition to a school system with an elected school board. All five seats were up for grabs in the 1996 election. Phalen was the only member of the sitting appointed board who decided to seek election.
In November of that year, Phalen won a six-year term as one of two at-large members. Extending the tenures of the at-large members was a one-time mechanism designed to ensure staggered terms. Phalen was reelected to the at-large seat for four-year terms in 2002 and again in 2006. He was barred by county law from seeking a fourth consecutive term. Instead, he ran as a Democrat for county commissioner but lost.
Phalen raised a few eyebrows in 2014 when he filed to run as an at-large candidate for the school board. He correctly pointed out that although county law didn’t permit him to seek a fourth consecutive term, it didn’t prohibit him permanently from running for the board of education again. He finished second in polling for the two at-large seats in both the 2014 and 2018 general elections.
Phalen, a Huntingtown resident, was a U.S. Navy veteran and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin Platteville, where he earned a degree in history and political science. He worked for the U.S. Census Bureau as a survey statistician for 35 years.
“Bill is an excellent friend and a good board member to serve with,” said school board member Tracy McGuire. “He and I disagreed a lot, vehemently, and yet, because of who he is, we always enjoyed our work together. His commitment to get to the right decision meant all sides of an issue were listened to, not just respectfully, but with a spirit of being willing to learn, to have his mind changed.”
“Bill brought a depth of institutional knowledge to our board that was so important in providing context to discussions around some of the most difficult decisions,” said school board member Dawn Balinski. “He was a consummate public servant who cared deeply about our school system.”
Before he became a school board member, Phalen had leadership roles with the PTAs of Huntingtown Elementary and Northern Middle schools. He was also involved with the Northern High School Band Boosters.
After becoming a school board member, Phalen also represented Calvert as a member of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education. His tenure included a stint as MABE’s president in 2007. Phalen was the recipient of MABE’s Willis Award for outstanding school board member in 2010.
Phalen is survived by Donna Phalen, his wife of 49 years, his children, William Jr., Elizabeth and Kerry, as well as his five grandchildren and three siblings.
“I am so grateful Donna and the kids shared him with the Calvert County school community,” McGuire said.
“I will miss his gentlemanly ways and especially his sense of humor,” Balinski stated.
Services for Phalen will be held Monday, Sept. 14, at 10:30 a.m. at Jesus the Good Shepherd Church in Owings, where he was a founding member. There will be a visitation Sunday from 5 to 8 p.m. at Rausch Funeral Home in Owings.