Prince George's sprawling ninth school district, which covers the southern third of the county, can expect a clash of candidates as different as the district is diverse.
The two contestants are as far apart in sytle as the tennis courts of Tantallon and the tobacco farms of Aquasco, but only one will represent the residents of both on the school board this fall.
The incumbent is Norman H. (Chuck) Saunders, 47, who rode a wave of anti-busing sentiment to victory in the county's first school board election in 1973. Because he was elected to an initial seven-year term, Saunders has not stood for reelection since. His present campaign is for a regular four-year term.
Saunders will run on his anti-busing record, as a proponent of strong discipline in the schools and as a critic of standardized tests.
The challenger is Mary Touchstone, 37, an outspoken former New Yorker who moved to Camp Springs in 1977 after 12 years in Washington. She says the school board has allowed the school busing squabbles to deflect attention from the need for improvement in the quality of education in county schools. She also feels that the schools are not giving enough regular homework, may not be doing an adequate job of preparing students for a technological society and close down too frequently in bad weather.
Saunders, the son of tenant farmers who settled in the community of Queen Anne near the Patuxent River, is a product of post-World War II rural poverty. Residents of the southern part of the county seldom had electricity, indoor plumping or telephones when he was growing up. He likes to point out that he is a country boy at heart.
"I could take you to the Patuxent with a bowie knife, a frying pan and a flint and stay there as long as you tell me to," he said in a recent interview. f
He received his first lessons in discipline in the one-room Seabrook Elementary School, which has "five grades and one teacher with a hickory switch," he said. "Mrs. Elsie Chambers, I'll never forget her. She took a hickory switch to me one time and I haven't had any problems since."
The school is now a maintenance facility for county school buses.
Trained as a commerical artist, Saunders is in charge of visual communications and printing for the National Defense University, a training facility for high ranking military officers from all services and some civilians.
In his 1973 campaign, Saunders promised that largely white areas like Camp Springs, where he lives, eventually would become racially mixed so that court-ordered busing could be reduced. His opponent is one of the new residents. This fall some 3,600 elementary school children, including many in Camp Springs, will not be bused out of their neighborhoods because of the modified busing plan Saunders pushed for.
He was and is "totally opposed to busing." He charges that busing contributes to "white flight," which along with "black influx" and "the pill," is eroding the tax base and forcing women to work, interfering with what he called the "God-given right to buy a house."
Saunders, chairman of the school board from 1976 to 1979, made headlines when he negotiated a 1979 pact with former county NAACP head William Martin to reduce school busing, without informing the school board. Martin was purged from the leadership of the county NAACP when the deal came to light and school board member Angelo Castelli moved unsuccessfully to oust Saunders from the chairmanship.
Saunder's critics say he sometimes holds up meetings with obscure points, and makes "big [issues] out of little ones," as one board member put it.
"He tries twice as hard as anyone but he often ends up with fewer people. His style can be so aggravating. He's not as much of an initiator as an enlarger, thats why he's so redundant," said board member Al Golato who despite the criticism still counts Saunders as a conservative ally on the board.
Saunders is the first to admit that he may appear unsophisticated.
"People have laughed at me; they have every right to do so. I've often said, 'I don't really know what I'm saying, Dr. Feeney (Superintendent Edward J. Feeney),' but I'm trying to provoke some thought on the matter," he said. "I can't match wits and intelligence with them (school administration officials), no way."
Saunders' candidacy has been endorsed by the 7,200-member National Education Association, which represents Prince George's County teachers. The teachers like his strong stand on discipline. g
"Since he's been elected, he's been very supportive of teachers," said John Sisson, president of the NEA chapter in Prince George's. "He listens to us and he is very concerned with student accountability as well as teachers."
Saunders was recently hospitalized as the result of an auto accident in which he sustained torn muscles in his back, shoulder and neck. But soon he'll doff his usual charcoal suit and black patent leather shoes for his campaign uniform -- a yellow baseball hat with "CS" for Camp Springs on it, a yellow poplin jacket with three red speed stripes, yellow slacks and borwn loafers. He will climb into a bright yellow 1929 Ford convertible called "Tweety-Bird" to begin the serious work of campaigning.
Mary Touchstone likely would not be caught dead in a yellow poplin jacket with speed stripes. She doesn't even believe dungarees should be worn outside the home, let alone in the classroom.
"Jeans are fine for when I'm home but when I'm out -- no. The way you dress says something about how you feel about your school and how you feel about yourself."
Thus, wearing a stylish but conservative gray crepe dress, she had coffee with potential voters last week at the home of a black professional couple in Fort Washington.
Touchstone was reared in St. Albans, a black lower-middle class enclave in New York City. She remembers going to school in "snow up to our hips" and in sweltering heat without air-conditioning because schools were rarely closed for the weather.
"It seems to me that they close the schools in a minute down here," she said.
She says she has been "opening her mouth" about things since college, getting involved with civil rights struggles at Virginia Union University in Richmond where she earned a degree in sociology in 1964. u
"My father did not want me to get too involved, but lo and behold I got involved. I get hyped up about these things; to me it's almost like fun."
She did not spare the District government her opinions when she came to Washington in 1965. She and her neighbors in Northeast Washington banded together a few years ago to stop sludge from being dumped in their area, to convince the autothorities to relocate a proposed school and to move a Metro stop.
Touchstone, a social worker, suprevises five caseworkers for the Washington Department of Human Services, and makes waves there too.
"Consistently, throughout this agency there is . . . mismanagement. I have tried to remedy this situation from within, and sometimes my efforts have borne fruit," she said.
She moved to Camp Springs three years ago when she and her husband John found their Washington home too small for their three children.
She began her campaign for the school board last February, after a fellow member of the camp Spring Elementary PTA suggested she would be "good for the job." She has had six to eight coffee meetings like the one in Fort Washington and was poised and assertive before 12 local parents, mostly professionals, mostly black.
She called for a consistent policy on homework, fewer closings because of weather, involvement of parents in the problems of discipline and, perhaps most important in her view, setting higher standards for students.
"I feel as if these kids are not being informed of their options," she said. "If you're talking about a technological society, which is what we have, they have got to be ready or they won't be eating."
One of the guests, Calvin Martin, a defense department administrator, has lived in the Tantallon area since 1973 and, like most of the guests at the gathering, has seen the neighborhood turn from largely white to mostly black within 10 years. He is Touchstone's precinct captain for the area.
"I'm very concerned about the reputation that he (Saunders) has. I don't like the issues he raises," Martin said, recalling school board meetings he has attended.
"His approach to problems does not seem logical to me."
One county official who asked not to be identified said he was impressed by Touchstone and would work to see that she got sufficient exposure in the larger community.
"I would think that she'd have appeal with anyone. My God, she's articulate and concerned about the public schools. It's easy for a white, middle-class person to relate to that," he said.
Nevertheless, Touchstone is likely to face an uphill fight due to the conservative, anti-busing sentiment in southern Prince George's County where conservative busing foe Sue V. Mills was by far the most pouplar vote-getter in the 1978 general election for the County Council. m
Yet due to the transient nature of the population in the county, particularly around Andrews Air Force Base, it may be difficult to profile the voters this time around. When Touchstone moved to Camp Springs, hers was the third black family on her street and her daughter's school was mostly white, she said. Now her street is almost all black and she estimates the school is close to 50 percent black.
The conflict of backgrounds and styles between Saunders and Touchstone should make for a colorful campaign.
"There's no way she can keep up with my momentum and my will," said Saunders, confident of the secret strategy he says he planned for the battle.
The challenger summed up her style with an anecdote: "One of my workers said to me, "You know Mrs. T., you're about as tactful as a bull in a tea shop.'"