The Montgomery County Education Association, which represents about 12,000 teachers in the county’s public school system, announced Wednesday evening that it is endorsing County Executive Ike Leggett for re-election to a third term.
“There was more than one candidate in this race with a proven record of supporting public education,” said MCEA President Doug Prouty. “But Ike’s commitment during very difficult budget years has made a real difference in maintaining the quality of our schools.”
Added Prouty, “Ike has continued to work closely with the Board of Education, [Montgomery County Public Schools] leadership and the school employee organizations to increase funding for all of the county agencies that support our students, both in the classroom and outside the school building.”
The endorsement of Leggett was announced following a vote late Wednesday by more than 150 delegates to the union’s representative assembly. The endorsement required a 58 percent supermajority vote by the MCEA’s interview team and board of directors, along with the representative assembly.
The MCEA solicited questionnaires from the three Democrats seeking the county executive’s job – Leggett, former County Executive Doug Duncan, and Councilmember Phil Andrews – as well as Republican Jim Shalleck. But sources said only Leggett and Duncan were seriously in contention for the group’s backing, particularly given Andrews’ hawkish views toward recent county labor contracts. Shalleck is given slim odds of winning in November in the overwhelmingly Democratic county.
The endorsement of the MCEA – which has published the so-called “Apple Ballot” in advance of elections for more than two decades — is considered particularly significant in Montgomery County contests. The MCEA’s backing, along with the choice of the Washington Post editorial page, are widely regarded as the two most influential endorsements in local elections. Leggett received the backing of the Post in an endorsement published in this past Saturday’s paper.
Leggett has been the widely perceived frontrunner in the race since announcing for re-election 11 months ago. The combination of the MCEA and Post endorsements is certain to reinforce his frontrunning status heading into the June 24 primary, in which he faces Duncan and Andrews.
Ironically, backing Leggett may be one of the few things on which the MCEA and the Post are in accord: In recent years, the Post editorial page has taken strong exception to the size of the compensation agreements accorded to MCEA’s membership, while criticizing Maryland’s controversial maintenance of effort law, which is strongly supported by state teachers’ groups.
The maintenance of effort law bars counties from spending less for education from one year to another, while also requiring increases based on a rise in student population. While Leggett’s proposed 2014 budget contained the minimum needed to comply with the law, for 2015 he has proposed providing the schools with $26 million over what is required in the maintenance of effort statute.
While this is only half of the nearly $52 million over maintenance of effort levels requested by Superintendent Joshua Starr and the board of education, it was seen in some quarters as a bid by Leggett to solidify teacher sentiment in the face of the coming election.
During interviews with the MCEA, Leggett – who earlier in his tenure criticized the maintenance of effort law in sometimes harsh terms – is reported to have expressed acceptance of the statute and the need to work within it. Duncan, on the other hand, may have lost points among MCEA members by criticizing some of the enforcement mechanisms of the maintenance of effort law, which include the ability of the state to reallocate local income taxes to the school system if a county government fails to comply with the law.
The MCEA is the second of the three major local unions representing public employees to weigh in on the executive contest. SEIU Local 500, which represents about 12,000 workers in Montgomery County – including support staff in the public school system and adjunct faculty at Montgomery College – endorsed Leggett two weeks ago.
UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO, which represents about 8,000 non-uniformed employees of the county government, said in a release last week that it “has not yet settled on a candidate to endorse” for county executive. Privately, MCGEO officials – who have had a stormy relationship with Leggett as a result of pay freezes and benefit cuts at the height of the recession – are said to be debating between endorsing Duncan and making no recommendation. Duncan previously garnered the backing of the local unions representing the county’s police and firefighters.
The MCEA and SEIU support of Leggett appears to underscore a split between unions representing school employees and those representing other public employees, with the latter seeing the maintenance of effort law as draining resources from other public sector agencies for which their members work.
In an effort to keep up the heat on the County Council to provide increased funding for the school system in the coming 2015 fiscal year, the MCEA plans to wait another two weeks –until the 2015 county budget is voted upon – before announcing decisions in several council races where incumbents are seeking renomination in the June primary.
This includes the contests in District 1, now represented by Roger Berliner; District 2, held by Craig Rice, and District 4, represented by Nancy Navarro, along with four at-large seats, where incumbents Marc Elrich, Nancy Floreen, George Leventhal and Hans Riemer all are seeking another term. Except for Navarro, all the above incumbents face opposition on next month’s primary.
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