Both candidates say they want to reduce class size. Both want better vocational education. But one of the two men running for the 4th District seat on the Prince George's County Board of Education has the strong backing of County Executive Parris Glendening, and that distinction has drawn more notice than either of their platforms.
New Carrollton attorney Thomas Hendershot -- one of 10 candidates for five board races being contested in the Nov. 6 election -- was recruited by Glendening because, the county executive said, he was worried that "someone might come out of the woodwork and walk into an open seat."
The candidate's opponent, William McEwen, a New Carrollton City Council member, says he is "galled" by what he describes as a "close-knit political machine" that he fears could threaten the nonpartisan, independent school board. Hendershot, who ran unsuccessfully for County Council in 1982, plays down Glendening's invitation, saying several other supporters and friends also urged him to run.
Several school board members say Glendening's recruitment and endorsement of Hendershot fits into a pattern of more involvement by the executive office in school board matters -- involvement they do not necessarily welcome.
"I think Mr. Glendening would like to have more control over the school board," said member Catherine Burch, who is running unopposed to retain her seat.
Burch said Glendening was miffed with the board for not consulting him last spring on the choice of superintendent and angry with members who fought hard for a bigger school budget. She said that during teacher negotiations last spring, he lobbied board members against exceeding the cost-of-living raise he advocated for all county employees.
Glendening denied that he has tried to interfere in school matters. He has been surprised and irritated, he said, by the reaction of some members who view his endorsement as part of a "turf battle."
"All I want to be able to do is work closely with the board," he said. "I don't want to get involved in curriculum and policy decisions. With something as vital as education, we've got to pull in the same direction."
Said Doris Eugene, who is running for reelection in the 1st District, "He Glendening wants friends on the board. We're always willing to listen. That's fine , as long as he recognizes that we're still independent to make our own decisions."
Other board members see Glendening's involvement in board matters as legitimate. "He's a parent in the county, and he has a right to be interested in who is on the board," said Sarah Johnson, who was appointed by Glendening in 1982 and is running for reelection to her 7th District seat.
If elected, Hendershot said, he would remain independent. "Where I think Glendening's suggestions are good ones, I'll go with them. Where I don't, I won't go with them. He understands that. Parris knows I'm no one's patsy," he said.
McEwen, who worked for Hendershot's council campaign, said he suspects his opponent would use the board seat vacated by the retirement of Susan Bieniasz only as a stepping stone to the council, a charge Hendershot denies.
McEwen, 45, has served on the New Carrollton council for 13 years and is administrative assistant to Rep. Bill Hefner (D-N.C.).
Like all candidates, he is calling for reduced class size. The average class size in county schools ranges from 28 to 30 students, but many classes are larger, according to school officials.
McEwen also wants more and better vocational schools, which he believes can be funded with private support from businesses who stand to benefit from the graduates.
"People have so little faith in the schools, they are unwilling to support them. If there's one shining star in our system, it's Eleanor Roosevelt," the Greenbelt high school that offers a selective science and technology program. "We've got to make all our schools have a reputation like Eleanor Roosevelt," he said.
McEwen would like to see specialized magnet schools such as Eleanor Roosevelt in fine arts and liberal arts. He believes money can be saved by cutting back on administrators, and he disapproves of the decentralized administrative structure that divides the northern and southern sections of the county.
He supports a competency test for teachers before they are hired and disapproves of further busing to desegregate schools.
"Parents of both races are tired of busing . They're more interested in the quality of education," he said, predicting that a new busing plan would cause "an exodus from Prince George's County . . . . "
Hendershot, 40, wants to focus on class size and discipline problems. "Teachers need to know they are backed up by their superiors -- when discipline is visited by someone they're not left by themselves to take the heat," he said.
He supports the current strict expulsion policy but said there should be more alternative situations for students who are not expelled but who are disruptive.
Hendershot wants an emphasis on basics and a concerted effort to raise test scores. While he said his family -- he has four children -- has been satisfied with the public schools, he believes there is a need for stronger leadership on the board.
"There is the tendency to be defensive, to circle the wagons," he said of the present school board. "The community is ready to help, but they need to break through that kind of defensiveness."