Maryland Schools

Montgomery, Prince George's friendly to incumbents in school board primaries

By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 16, 2010

Voters in Montgomery County embraced the status quo Tuesday in the Board of Education primary, handing wide margins of victory to incumbents and making it likely that the board will embrace a successor to retiring Superintendent Jerry D. Weast who does not radically depart from his policies.

In Prince George's County, school board incumbents also prevailed, although not every seat had an incumbent running. That board will work to resolve its relationship with Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.; critics of the school system have accused the current board of micromanaging.

The top two vote-getters for each seat in the two counties' nonpartisan primaries will advance to the Nov. 2 general election. In Prince George's County, all nine seats on the school board will be up for election. In Montgomery County, four of seven seats are up for election.

Montgomery voters handed defeat to three members of the Parents' Coalition, a group that has been critical of Weast. Coalition members say that Weast has failed to be open or responsive to community opinion and that he has neglected gifted and special-needs students. But those criticisms apparently did not carry much weight with voters; coalition candidates Lyda Astrove, Agnes Jones-Trower and Louis M. Wilen finished last in the three races on Tuesday's ballot.

The top vote-getters were current board members who have differed with Weast primarily on style, not substance. Board members and education experts have said that the school system is unlikely to pick someone who would change Weast's fundamental initiative, which was to focus the county schools on narrowing the achievement gap between black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian American peers.

In doing so, Weast channeled resources from wealthier parts of the county to poorer, more diverse schools. Over the 11 years he has headed the school system, achievement gaps have narrowed by many measures.

At-large board member Shirley Brandman won 62 percent of the vote; she will face homemaker Lisa Lloyd on the November ballot. Board member Judy Docca (Gaithersburg) won 62 percent of the vote, and she will face security analyst Michael IbaƱez in November. And board member Michael E. Durso (Northeastern County) will face homemaker Martha Schaerr.

Only two candidates are running for the fourth seat up for election, so both of them -- board President Patricia O'Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase) and Karen Smith -- head straight to November's ballot.

In Prince George's County, a crowded field of candidates -- 31 were on the ballot Tuesday -- was winnowed to 18 who will appear on the ballot in November. The Prince George's school board does not face a decision as crucial as picking a new superintendent, but it will have the challenge of working within new parameters.

Prince George's did away with countywide seats on the board this year, so each member now will represent a geographical district. The board also will have to define its relationship to the superintendent, who is responsible for the daily operations of the school system. Hite's predecessor, John E. Deasy, left in 2008 in part because of a tense relationship with the board.

Board Chairman Verjeana M. Jacobs (At Large) was the top vote-getter in District 5; she will face Sharon Theodore-Lewis. Board member Rosalind Johnson will face David H. Murray in District 1; board member Amber Waller will face Charles C. Coleman in District 3; board member Pat Fletcher will face Carolyn M. Boston in District 6; and board member Donna Hathaway Beck will face George E. Mitchell in District 9.

In the races for the open seats, Patricia Eubanks will face Aimee Olivo in District 4, and Henry P. Armwood Jr. will face Lykisha Perkins in District 7.

Two seats did not have more than two candidates and were not on Tuesday's ballot. Steven Morris will face Edward Burroughs III in District 8, and Mark Cook will face Peggy Higgins in District 2.

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