School board candidates face off in primary debate
— The three candidates vying for the District 2 seat on the Board of Education faced off in a debate for the first time on Tuesday night.
Erin Doordan, Jim Fazzino and Ron Lobos are competing to be among the top two vote-getters in the primary election on April 26 and move on to the general election in November. The three candidates are competing for the seat currently held by Lauren Camphausen, who can’t run for reelection since she’s already served two terms.
Running as non-partisans in the primary election, all three candidates will compete on Republican and Democratic ballots for the top two number of votes. Those candidates will then move on to the November general election while the third place finisher is left out.
Doordan, who has two children who attend Cecil County Public Schools, works for a Delaware company that helps individuals with disabilities find jobs. Fazzino, who also has two children in CCPS, has spent nearly 20 years as an educator and currently works for Baltimore County Public Schools. Lobos, whose son graduated from CCPS, is a real estate appraiser and a member of the Cecil County Patriots, a conservative advocacy group.
At Tuesday’s debate at Cecil College’s Milburn Stone Theatre, the three candidates gave their thoughts on topics such as the school curriculum, the school budget and how they would perform their duties as school board members.
All three of the candidates agreed that, in general, Cecil County Public Schools does a good job educating students and has many good programs in place. But throughout the debate, the three offered their own thoughts on how the school system could improve.
Doordan said the school system provides a good education and also mentioned a recent trip she took to the North Bay Adventure Camp with her son’s sixth-grade class. The trip was a great experience for all the kids, she said, including many of
the students who had never been on a boat ride in the Chesapeake Bay before.
“That’s shocking, but it’s true because we have such a diverse community,” she said. “I will make sure that each student receives a quality education here in this county.”
Fazzino agreed and said that though the schools provide an excellent education, many students face obstacles when it comes to accessing that education.
“I do believe that our children are receiving an appropriate and effective education, but I also recognize that there are barriers,” he said. “I want to make sure we’re investing appropriate time and attention to areas to break down barriers.”
For Lobos, his concern lies with the future of county schools under the Common Core curriculum. Lobos criticized Common Core, saying that he opposes a “one-size-fits-all” curriculum and that it should be up to the individual school systems to decide what is taught in their classrooms.
The candidates did find common ground when it came to the Cecil County School of Technology. All three praised the new tech school and stressed the need for more technical education in the school system.
The school budget was another frequent topic of conversation during the debate. Lobos, a frequent critic of the school budget and of the state-mandated maintenance of effort laws, was asked how much the current school operating budget was and what percent of it comes from the federal government, the state government and local government.
Lobos replied that the current budget is around $192 million with about 43 percent coming from the county, 47 percent from the state and the remaining 10 percent from the federal government. Fazzino and Doordan were given the chance to challenge Lobos’ numbers but both declined to do so.
Kelly Keeton, a CCPS spokeswoman, said the system’s approved operating budget is $188,411,080 and the current amended budget, which includes items such as grants, is $190,735,930. Of the budget, 42 percent comes from the county, 53 percent comes from the state and 5 percent comes from the federal government.
Lobos also challenged the transparency of the CCPS budget process throughout the debate, noting that every year the county gives CCPS more money and the following year the school system comes back and says it’s not enough.
“It’s gotten to the point where many of the citizens in Cecil County feel that when it comes to a need for more money, the public schools are crying wolf,” he said. “Now, if there’s only one thing I want you to remember before you leave here tonight, it’s how do you say wolf in Spanish. Lobos, that’s right. Cry wolf, my friends.”
The debate also gave each of the candidates a chance to outline what they would do if elected to the school board.
If elected, Doordan said she would be known as a collaborative person and an innovative thinker and would advocate for the school system on the national, state and local level.
Lobos said he would visit all 29 county schools during his first year in office and would also create an unpaid advisory group of eight people from the community to give him feedback and share their concerns.
Fazzino said he would embrace his role as a Board of Education member by being active in the larger county community. He also stressed the need to get feedback from teachers, administrators, parents and students both in person and through social media.
“It’s important to be a part of the school fabric,” he said. “You have to really dig into the work and make sure that every child is receiving an exceptional experience regardless of their abilities or disabilities and regardless of their circumstances.”
Ron Lobos answers a question during the Board of Education primary debate as Jim Fazzino and Erin Doordan look on.