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Women running for School Board as 'slate'

December 26, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Energized by their experiences battling the school system's bureaucracy and what they regard as a lack of support from school officials, a pair of Paramount Elementary School parents launched a bid for the Washington County Board of Education Thursday.

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Bernadette Wagner, 42, and Roxanne Ober, 40, filed for the board as a slate.

The little-used tactic in Washington County allows Ober and Wagner to share campaign resources and coordinate their message. Although they will file campaign finance reports jointly, their names will appear separately on the ballot.

"The main reason we're doing this is we philosophically agree," Wagner said.

Wagner and Ober, who serve on the Paramount Elementary School PTA, have fought against a decision to reshuffle the schedules of teachers in the Project Challenge program for gifted and talented students.

The 16 Project Chalelnge teachers rotate among 25 elementary schools. The School Board decided over the summer that the amount of time each school gets from one of the teachers should be based on its enrollment.

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The change resulted in the less teaching time at Paramount, which has a higher percentage of gifted and talented students than any other county elementary school.

Wagner, a stay-at-home mother who has a graduate degree in speech pathology from Loyola University, said parents have met five times with schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr.

"We have gotten no written communication in response to any of those meetings," she said. "The board has not been open to working with parent groups."

Despite their frustration of the Project Challenge issue, the women said they are not single-issue candidates. Parents throughout the school system share many of the same concerns, they said.

"It's not just about Paramount anymore," Wagner said.

They said they were incensed to learn most of a $75,000 state grant to aid the school system's programs for the gifted and talented was not spent.

Wagner concurs with the view that the Washington County Commissioners have not spent enough on education in recent years.

"But we also need to do a better job spending the funds we do have," she said.

Ober, who has three children, said she wants to improve teacher pay and morale.

"We also look at ourselves as advocates for our children," she said.

Ober said the school system needs to aggressively seek alternative sources of money, including private grants and business partnerships.

She said their experiences will add to the School Board.

"We feel as parent advocates and potential School Board members that we can analyze what is broken," she said.

Both women bring other experiences to the race. Wagner is education chair of St. Ann's Church Parish Council, served on the school system's redistricting committee and has coached youth sports.

Ober, who has a public service degree from Penn State University, volunteered on Bruce Babbitt's presidential campaign in 1988 and later worked for his nonprofit environmental organization.

The women join John W. Cohen, Edward Forrest, Russell F. Williams and incumbents Doris J. Nipps and Andrew R. Humphreys in the race.

Voters will choose four candidates. If more than eight have filed by the deadline tonight, a primary vote will be held March 7 to narrow the field to eight. The general election is Nov. 7.

School board members receive $4,800 annually. The president gets $100 more.

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