Nine Montgomery County residents have filed for three seats on the county's school board in an election that will mark the first time in two decades that candidates have run from geographic districts.
The election will guarantee at least one new member on the board. There is a candidate in an uncontested race for the first time since the 1960s.
The resumption of districting -- an election method abandoned by Montgomery in 1966 -- will be phased in. This year, voters will select a board member from the Silver Spring area and one from Rockville, while the third member will be selected at large. Another three seats will be divided into districts in 1990, and the remaining seat will remain at large.
The General Assembly reinstituted districts in an attempt to ensure representation on the board from each part of the county -- in particular, the rapidly growing northern and western communities.
School board elections are nonpartisan, and all registered Montgomery voters will be eligible to vote in all three races, regardless of their party registration and where in the county they live.
In the 2nd District, which includes Rockville, Sharon DiFonzo, the board president, faces two challengers, Stephen Abrams, a member of the Rockville City Council, and Paul Kuhn, who said he belongs to the "radical wing" of the Libertarian Party.
DiFonzo, 45, a homemaker from Rockville, was elected to the board in 1984. She said the school system's challenges include crowded and aging school buildings, declining state and federal subsidies, and an increasingly diverse population of students.
Abrams, 44, an administrator at the State Department and a member of the Rockville City Council since 1980, said the school system needs to improve its management -- in particular, its decisions to close schools and build new ones. He said it is unclear whether he could serve on the council and the board simultaneously.
Kuhn, 22, of Flower Valley outside Rockville, is a Montgomery College student who said he wants the school system to stop cooperating with the Selective Service and the juvenile courts and to soften its discipline policies.
No incumbent is running for the at-large seat, because Mary Margaret Slye, who has been ill and unable to attend recent board meetings, decided this month not to run for a second term.
That makes it a five-way race in which the best-known candidates are Jeremiah Floyd of Bethesda, a former school board member, and Robin Ficker of Potomac, a former state delegate who has been a frequent candidate for various public offices.
Floyd, an administrator of the National School Boards Association, was appointed to the board in 1984 and was its only black member until 1986, when he was defeated by Bruce Goldensohn, who ran as an upper-county candidate. In his first stint, Floyd was particularly interested in improving minority students' achievement and elevating the status of teaching.
Ficker, 44, is a trial lawyer who has been a gadfly in Annapolis and around Montgomery County. He said the school system should work to get more state subsidies for school construction, increase students' scores on standardized tests, improve their physical fitness and curb drug and alcohol use.
The other candidates are Susan Lee White of Bethesda, an unsuccessful candidate last year for the Maryland State Senate; Catherine Hobbs of Sandy Spring, who is trying to draw attention to high school dropouts, and Robert Creager of Burtonsville.
Blair Ewing, who was first elected in 1976, is running unopposed in the 4th District, which includes Silver Spring. Ewing, 54, an executive at the Pentagon, said he is seeking a fourth term to work on "a substantial agenda of unfinished business" that includes improvements in teaching, early childhood education, the achievement of minority students, and math and science instruction.
Candidates in the 2nd District and at-large races will run in a primary March 8 to narrow the field to two candidates for each seat. The general election will be Nov. 8.
Staff writer Beth Kaiman contributed to this report.