The well-dressed woman had been sitting quietly toward the back of the meeting room at the Indian Queen elementary school, but now, midway through the forum, she was waving her hand vigorously. She had something to say to Otia Ducker and Angelo Castelli, the two Prince George's County school board candidates she had come to see.
"I didn't come here to listen to Mr. Castelli tell me how horrible, Ducker is, or Mr. Ducker tell me how horrible Castelli is "she said, her voice rising." I don't care what you think about each other. I would really like to know what you do for my children."
The woman won a standing ovation from the two dozen people around her who like so few of their neighbors, had taken enough interest in the County's Board of Education election endorsement from partisan politicians.
The meeting was in many ways a typical one in the county's three school board campaigns. Voter apathy has been high, and the volatile issues facing the board this year - chiefly, school closings and busing - have generated as much catfighting as debating among most of the six candidates.
Two of the board's nine members, A James Golato of District 5 and Lesley Kreimer of District 2 are running for reelection for six-year terms. Golato faces Dorothea Riley in his Bowie-based district while Kreimer is enmeshed in a close race with Muriel Weidenfeld in District 2, which includes College Park, Greenbelt and to come out to meet the two candidates in District 8 last Monday.
Instead of explaining their platforms, Ducker and Castelli opened the forum by attacking each other for everything from placing campaign signs on telephone poles to receiving University Park.
The closest, and most significant school board rate, however, is taking place in District 8, where Castelli and Ducker, who finished within 60 votes of each other in the primary, are battling over the old seat of Sue Mills, who retired from the board to run for the County Council.
Castelli, an attorney with the Department of Justice, has been endorsed by Mills and shares her flamboyant, conservative approach to school issues. Ducker, in contrast, represents the growing middle-class black population of the southern part of the county, and his far more moderate philosophy reflects the growing development and shifting demographics of the traditionally rural and conservative district.
The two are clearly divided on the issue of busing, which will undoubtedly be the focus of school board debate beginning early next year. Both Ducker and Castelli, like all the board candidates, are saying that the district's busing plan needs to be modified.
The two candidates have drastically different ideas about what the district should do about it.
Since court-ordered busing began in the country in 1973, many previously segregated areas of the county have become racially balanced, and some resegregation has occurred because of black migration into inner-Belt-way neighborhoods.
Castelli's answer is to stop as much of the busing as the court will allow. He is telling audiences that "the election will determine whether we continue to live in integrated neighborhoods, or whether we have all-black neighborhoods."
"If we don't stop the busing," Castelli told one black woman at the Indian Queen forum, "all the whites are going to mvoe out of the county. Then you will have no place to bus your children."
Ducker says he would favor changing the busing pattern, but only so that "racial balance of the county is preserved." "The county is not totally integrated," Ducker says, "look at Seat Pleasant.It's ridiculous to say that no busing is needed."
castelli charges that if Ducker's busing policy is followed, "white flight" will continue, schools will decline, and whites will flock to other counties. Ducker, in turn, says Castelli's campaign is directed toward a racist mentality.
"He doesn't care about the disruption of the community as long as the community that's disrupted is black," Ducker said. "All of his remarks have to do with the busing of black children into white communities."
Busing is also a central issue in District 2, where Weidenfeld finished ahead of incumbent Kreimer in the primary after issuing a position paper that called for intensive study of the busing issue before any action is taken.
Kreimer, in contrast, tried last summer to persuade the Board of Education to consider school closing and a new busing system simultaneously. Her plan was voted down - school closings are now being studied independently of the busing plan but Kreimer insists that her idea specialized magnet schools as an alternative to busing is still "one of the best ideas that has come up so far."
The busing problem and its racial implications is less likely to affect voters in the the second district than in the Castelli-Ducker race, however. More important is Kreimer's record on the board - and Weidefeld's attacks on it.
"Kreimer has not worked well with other members of the board, and she has not been assertive enough," Weidenfeld says. 'We need someone who will be aggressive, and who will be more responsive to the people in the district."
Kreimer responds that sh has lacked aggressiveness only in failing to engage in the name-calling and bitterness that has no often characterized the present board.
Weidenfed, she says, fails to be specific about any of her positions. "Muriel doesn't get into issues," Kreimer says. "She doesn't have the knowledge or experience to make specific proposals as I have."
Among Kreimer's proposals are new classes for gifted and talented students, shift in special education programs away from strict vocational studies to academic classes for some students, and the reorganization of classroom assignmnts to prevent teachers from being pressed into conducting classes in subjects they are not skilled to teach.
The fifth district's campaign was generated last spring when Riley, a computer statistician for the Internal Revenue Service, visited incumbent Golato to complain about a change of principals at Phyllis E. Williams Elementary in Upper Marlboro.
"He was not at all responsive to me," Riley said. "And when I saw that he had no opposition in the election, I decided to run against him."
Golato remains one of the board's strongest opponents of busing. He believes that the board should draw up a preliminary plan to change the present pattern, then present it to the courts for comment before implementing it.
Golato says he will also attempt to persuade the board to adopt a new policy of spending half of its meetings reviewing school programs to determine whether they are effective or necessary.
Riley promises to work for smaller classes in the schools and says that "no school with more than 75 percent enrollment should be considered for closing." Currently, community task forces are considering 81 elementary schools and 17 junior high schools for closing that have 80 percent or less enrollment.