Photo of the candidate by Joe Center Media

Why are you running for County Council?

About six years ago, I was working with a middle school community that was being forced to change their schedule in a way that would have eliminated elective course possibilities for students. As a high-poverty school with many immigrant students, those electives were the few places where many students felt on a level playing field with other students. These were also the courses that engaged students who might otherwise fall through the cracks. The school was receiving no help or acknowledgement from the school system to address their concerns.

When I was finally able to get a meeting with someone in system leadership to discuss this and other similar issues of disempowerment, I was told I was on the wrong side of the table to influence those decisions. So, I ran for the county board of education, seeking to open those doors to the community and school staff, and to be responsive to their questions and feedback. We’ve made a lot of progress, but I now see there is so much beyond the schools’ control that impacts our families and the future of our county.

With one-third of our students impacted by poverty, we must find a way to create more economic opportunity, better support our small businesses, and create access to higher-paying jobs for our residents. Regardless if they do not attend college upon graduation, all of our students must be prepared for, and have access to, living wage jobs.

I want to continue to grow jobs for our residents in higher-paying sectors like the IT and health care industry. With students from 150 countries and families that speak over 157 languages, we have an abundant resource for employers that want culturally literate, highly skilled, hard-working employees. We must attract those jobs and connect our residents to better opportunities.

We also are facing a severe shortage of affordable housing. As I learned while a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity building homes in partnership with families in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico and the U.S., safe, affordable, stable housing fosters better health, greater social mobility and improved academic outcomes. I want to use my knowledge and experience with organizations like Neighborworks to increase our supply to better meet the need.

Our lack of a robust public transportation structure combined with insufficient rental and affordable housing options make it very difficult for residents to stay planted and grow roots, and still be able to get where they need to go. Connectivity with greater transportation options—from transit to roads to bike infrastructure to pedestrian pathways—are all critical to relieving congestion and having equitable development across the county.

As an environmental justice specialist working with a national nonprofit, I lobbied for protection of our natural resources and created educational materials to better inform the public about environmental challenges including climate change. Every decision we make going forward needs to be made through the lens of its impacts on our children’s future world and the environmental crises we are facing now.

These are the perspectives I want to bring to the County Council for the brightest future for all residents.

What are your qualifications for the position?

I have a strong record of public service and leadership in many roles that impact our community.

As an at-large member of the board of education, I’ve taken my role of overseeing our $2.58 billion budget very seriously. I ask a lot of questions about our approach, dig deep into barriers to students’ success, and seek to change the way we do business. During my time on the board, I’ve initiated, advocated for and supported:

  • Expanded career pathways, second language access and mental health supports
  • New opportunities for highly gifted learners in their home elementary and middle schools
  • Removal of fees for extracurricular programs and college entrance, dismantling financial barriers
  • Bolstering diversity in our school pipeline for magnet programs so they are more reflective of our population
  • Ensuring equity in afterschool and in-school programs for exposure to opportunities in important fields like the arts
  • Creating a focus on social-emotional learning next year; combining self-regulation skills like mindfulness, restorative justice practices, and trauma-informed teaching, among other efforts, and
  • Establishing a new approach to facility construction using more innovative, money-saving approaches and a new projection model that will more accurately predict growth.

These were just a few of my priorities that I have advocated hard for. In my remaining months, I will continue to push for better services and supports for our wide spectrum of children who struggle with learning issues from dyslexia to focus challenges, second language immersion access from K-12, universal access to pre-K, mental health education and support, and more.

Are you using public financing, yes or no?

Yes

If yes, have you qualified for matching funds?

Yes

What specific policies and/or programs would you propose to expand the county’s tax base?

We need to increase revenue, but can’t do it on the backs of residents whose resources are already stretched too thin. We are at a precipice in the balance between the needs of our population for quality of life and the services that we can offer to meet those needs. If we act swiftly and aggressively, Montgomery County can lead other jurisdictions in attracting/retaining businesses to grow our tax base and provide those resources.

As we move forward on our Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan, we have exciting options to more equitably distribute economic opportunities across the county. Now that our lawmakers are committed to $167 million in dedicated annual funding for Metro, and the BRT and Purple Line are moving forward, we need to continue to focus on transit-oriented development. For instance, we can lay the groundwork for the emergence of White Oak as a center for life sciences employment. This will mean taking better advantage of assets like the Food and Drug Administration and Adventist Hospital while also supporting the expansion of BRT to New Hampshire Avenue, Viers Mill Road, etc.

We must increase funding for the public/private partnership of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation. As a council member, I will ensure they have the resources they need to provide the networking, outreach and support required to attract and retain businesses. As 96 percent of our businesses are small businesses, the Small Business Network has many useful suggestions on how this partnership could better serve them, including many that have little to no cost such as web pages on the MCEDC website that list businesses in similar sectors to share information as businesses seek to grow.

We must better support businesses and create better conditions for them to operate. I would increase tax credits and incentives to attract high-wage companies. I support rethinking our county’s business climate by streamlining the process of obtaining permits to open a business and grandfathering regulations for existing businesses. All current regulations should be reviewed with an eye toward efficiency. We can connect more businesses and potential employees to WorkSource Montgomery, which could better serve the needs of companies and the labor market. In addition, we can increase partnerships with local banks to expand business loan availability. I believe we can generate new small businesses with micro-loans and coaching, increasing county revenue. I support making more strategic deals with developers to produce revenue and reduce costs on infrastructure.

We must also continue partnerships to stack credentials and certifications for our high school community college programs so students will be career-ready for high-paying jobs, and expand job training to support social mobility, reducing the need for county supports and increasing income tax revenue.

Lastly, we must use our unleased office space in new ways to produce more income. The MOVE program provides grants to new businesses to lease space. Growing that grant program will produce more revenue from smaller investments. Attracting companies like WeWork will allow entrepreneurs to share space and resources in an environment that’s attractive to new business owners. Expanding incubators for low-income entrepreneurs will start more new businesses.

I’m an average voter, interested in doing my civic duty but not an avid follower of county politics. Convince me that I should vote for you over all the other candidates.

We need an experienced, responsive, independent leader who isn’t afraid to take positions on tough issues. I have a record of public service that shows I do my homework, tackle difficult issues, work closely with both elected officials and residents, and focus on solutions. I seek innovative ways to solve long-standing challenges and use our incredible resources wisely (which includes our insightful and experienced community members). I actively seek input to make the best decisions—especially from our underrepresented populations. I don’t sit back and watch things happen. I make them happen. I believe that combination is what we need as we face an uncertain future.

Jill Ortman-Fouse is serving her first term as a member of the Board of Education. She is chair of the board’s Strategic Planning Committee and a member of the Policy Management Committee. She also serves as the board’s legislative delegate to the Maryland Association of Boards of Education; chairs MABE’s Ad Hoc Committee on the Every Student Succeeds Act; serves as MABE’s delegate on Maryland State Department of Education’s ESSA Stakeholder Group; and serves as a member of MABE’s Federal Relations Network Committee. In addition, she is a member of the Montgomery County Collaboration Council’s Disproportionate Minority Contact Reduction Committee and Montgomery County’s Children Fleeing Violence from Central America Work Group.

Ortman-Fouse has a bachelor’s degree in broadcast communications from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has used her communications skills in a variety of positions from hosting and producing documentaries and a morning show to leading communications and development strategies for national organizations. Her passion is using communication to bring people together to solve challenges in the community, especially those affecting our most vulnerable residents.

Since 2010, Ortman-Fouse has provided leadership coaching, team building, strategic planning and facilitation services with her business, T.E.A.M. Consulting, to nonprofits and businesses throughout the region.

Prior to her election to the board, Ortman-Fouse served county schools for the previous decade in a variety of roles, including PTA president, delegate for the Council of Parent-Teacher Associations, and member of the MCPS Parent Advisory Council.

She has also served in a variety of community leadership roles, including as board member for the Silver Spring YMCA, Gandhi Brigade, the Conflict Resolution Center of Montgomery County and the United Way’s Regional Advisory committee.

She has also served in numerous capacities on issues of local and national community importance from a national EPA joint partnership work group on community-centered schools to the county’s Energized Public Spaces Plan work group.

Ortman-Fouse is a 2017 graduate of Leadership Montgomery. She enjoys endurance sports and has completed nine marathons and an ironman distance triathlon. She and her husband have one student in MCPS high school and one MCPS graduate now at UMD-College Park.

Mike Diegel