A broad field of candidates with diverse backgrounds is running for 20 school board seats that will open this coming year in Washington's Maryland suburbs.

Some are longtime education activists, others are concerned parents or grandparents. Some are new to the idea of public office, some are seeking reelection. One is a self-described "anarchist."

The oldest candidate is 75; the youngest is 21.

Those who entered their names by Monday's filing deadline in Prince George's, Montgomery, Howard, Charles, Calvert and St. Mary's counties share many of the same desires: decreasing class size, raising teachers' salaries, promoting safety in the schools, improving test scores and increasing parental involvement in education.

Of the 20 open board seats, half will be contested in the March 7 primaries. The other 10 seats have two or fewer candidates, so they automatically will advance to the Nov. 7 general election.

In Howard County, 18 people are running for two seats. In Montgomery, an open at-large seat drew nine contestants. In Prince George's, where turnout was smaller for the six open seats, among those filing was a 21-year-old junior at Catholic University who graduated from a Prince George's high school in 1997.

Justin W. Chappell is 54 years younger than Patricia S. Gordon, 75, who lives in Ellicott City and is running in Howard.

Prince George's

Six board seats will be open next year, though only two will appear on the primary ballot.

The board in coming years will face a number of challenges, including funding up to 26 new schools in the next decade to relieve crowding, and raising teacher salaries.

In District 6, incumbent Kenneth E. Johnson (Mitchellville) will vie for reelection against Denise Williams and David Pittman.

Williams, a mother who lives in Springdale, said she is concerned about violence in the schools and suggested that social workers in the building would help students deal with emotional problems. Williams said she also likes the idea of schools having a moment of "meditation" each morning.

In District 9, incumbent Marilynn Bland (Clinton) will face off against Andre Nottingham and Minerva Sanders, the president of the countywide council of Parent-Teacher Associations.

Montgomery

Nine candidates will compete in the March primary to fill the at-large vacancy created when Beatrice B. Gordon said she would not seek reelection. The top two finishers in the primary will advance to the general election.

The list of candidates vying to succeed Gordon includes two former county PTA presidents, Luella Mast, of Silver Spring, and Sharon W. Cox, of Germantown. Mast placed third in last year's primary.

Other candidates for the at-large post include: Said Jahanmir, a Germantown resident who challenged the system this past year after Quince Orchard High School changed its rules on valedictorians, denying his son that title; Augustus Alzona, a Republican Party activist from Bethesda; Charles Haughey, a former U.S. Department of Education employee who has run for the Rockville City Council; Lauri Rodich, a Brookeville resident and longtime PTA activist who has served as an elected officer of the county PTA for the past three years; and Bill White, a self-described anarchist who last year lost a bid for a seat on the board.

Howard

With two at-large seats open, voters in the primary will chose four finalists from an unprecedented field of 18 candidates.

The large field "kind of says to the school system, 'Gee, there's a lot of people out there who don't think you're doing a good job,' " said Glenn Amato, a candidate running out of Hanover.

The school system has heard widely publicized complaints this year that its programs and resources are not equitably distributed. In response, the County Council, the county executive and superintendent have formed two committees to address the issue.

Candidates share this complaint: The current board simply isn't attentive to its citizens. Even during the board's public comment period at meetings, "they don't give you the satisfaction of knowing that they're even listening," said candidate Don Dunn, 71, a resident whose three children graduated from the county schools.

Southern Maryland

Twenty people have filed to run for the school boards in the three Southern Maryland counties, and many of them are talking about tackling the two issues that have kept current board members busy--how to handle growth and improve standardized test scores.

In Calvert County, where there are six candidates, finding money to build schools that officials say will be needed to accommodate swelling enrollments has created a rift between board members and the county commissioners.

"Calvert County has been experiencing a lot of growth and now has a poor student-teacher ratio," said Gail M. Hoerauf-Bennett, a former board member running against two others in District 1. "We have to work to improve that student-teacher ratio, and that takes funding." Three seats are open in Calvert, but only one will appear on the primary ballot.

In Charles County, voters may choose six finalists among eight competing for at-large seats on the school board. St. Mary's County has three open seats and six candidates; only the at-large race will appear on the primary ballot.

Staff writers Linda Perlstein, Manuel Perez-Rivas and Nancy Trejos contributed to this report.

Boards of Education

Candidates in March 7 Maryland primary elections:

Montgomery County

At-Large (voters choose 2)

Augustus Alzona

Sharon W. Cox

Charles Haughey

Said Jahanmir

Luella Mast

Lauri Rodich

Carmen A. Roman

Bill White

Beth Wong

District 2 (No primary)

Walter Lange

Mona M. Signer*

District 4 (No primary)

Kermit Burnett*

William Tell

Prince George's

District 1 (No primary)

Justin W. Chappell

Angela Como*

District 3 (No primary)

Doyle Niemann*

District 4 (No primary)

Catherine Smith*

District 6 (voters choose 1)

Denise Williams

David Pittman

Kenneth E. Johnson*

District 7 (No primary)

Felicia Lasley

Tom Lee

District 9 (voters choose 1)

Marilynn Bland*

Andre Nottingham

Minerva Sanders

Howard

At Large (voters choose 4)

Marcelino Bedolla

Stephen C. Bounds

Glenn Amato

Virginia Charles

June D. Cofield

Daniel M. Dotson

Don Dunn

Allen Dyer

Patricia S. Gordon

Cheri J. Herschman

Melody J. Higgins

Michael F. Katz

Jerry D. Johnston

Kristine Lockwood

Kathleen Sinkinson

Steven Swanhart

Lydia Williams

Arthur Neal Willoughby

Calvert

District 1 (voters choose 1)

Gail M. Hoerauf-Bennett

Robert Church

Eugene Karol

District 2 (No primary)

Peter Cucinotta Jr.

Robert L. Gray*

District 3 (No primary)

Mary G. Billings*

Charles

At-Large (voters choose 6)

Michael Lukas

Kathy Levanduski*

Al Smith

Wayne Cooper*

Mary L. Haff*

Deran Eaton

Howard Haft

Edward P. Holland

St. Mary's

District 2 (No primary)

Stephen Kracinovich*

Dennis Jack Hubscher

District 4 (No primary)

Mary M. Washington*

At Large (voters choose 1)

Todd B. Morgan

Cathy Allen

Elizabeth Reeves

*Incumbent

NOTE: Contests with two or less candidates appear only on Nov. 7 general election ballots.