No matter who gets elected to the nonpartisan Howard County Board of Education on Tuesday, one thing seems certain: Things are likely to change.

Either Courtney Watson or Barry Tevelow would become the only board member with a child in the county school system. Either would be the youngest board member. Both are school activists who have proven they are willing to stand up to a board that, they say, lacks vision and leadership.

That much was evident by their response to the record $86.3 million capital budget request unanimously approved by the board last week.

"They're dreaming," Tevelow said, adding that such a request is not in line with the current fiscal picture.

Watson had a similar reaction: "It was out of control. . . . No one was steering the ship."

Both provide a litany of other examples of the five-member board's lack of leadership. Watson, vice president of an insurance company, cites the failure to develop a long-term plan for accommodating growth. Tevelow, owner of a small technology firm, said the board has not done enough to hold Superintendent John O'Rourke and his staff accountable on issues such as student performance and test scores.

But although the candidates have focused and largely agreed on issues, their campaigns have been strikingly different.

According to the latest filing this month, Watson has raised $11,955 compared with the $890 raised by Tevelow, who capped contributions at $50. Watson said she has organized a team of volunteers to post signs, mail campaign literature, raise money and wave signs -- steps not normally taken by school board candidates, she said.

"It's important to run a real campaign," she said.

That's familiar to Watson, whose father was once county executive and whose sister is founder and president of Preservation Howard County. Her contributors include County Council members of both parties and school board member Patricia S. Gordon.

Still, Watson said her track record shows she can fight for issues that are unpopular with the board, such as the 12th high school, planned for 2005, and Bellows Spring Elementary School, scheduled to open in 2003.

"I'm not one to take no for an answer," she said. "Not only do I say that, I prove it."

Tevelow said he also has earned his stripes. He founded the Teen Community Forum for students to express their opinions and worked with teachers to reform their union, he said.

But raising money and politicking were not crucial to his campaign, he said. Capping contributions was a sign, he said, that he wanted to focus on the issues. For Tevelow, those are communication and accountability.

Those issues are "resonating around the community," he said. "This is happening just because I've been talking about it."

He questioned Watson's ability -- and desire -- to bring change to the school board, while Watson said that Tevelow's brand of activism alienates the board and school officials.

For example, in a widely publicized incident, Tevelow was arrested two years ago during a student protest over the school system's firing of teacher Kristine Lockwood at Glenwood Middle School. He said that a student had asked him to stay and that he chose to be arrested rather than abandon him.

Tevelow said his nontraditional campaign is "a different style. It's a different strategy. I don't think it's lost me votes."

That will be determined Tuesday. During the primary in September, Watson and Tevelow won the right in a three-way race to face off in the general election. Watson claimed every precinct for a total of 20,940 votes, or 62 percent. Tevelow got 6,955 votes, or 21 percent.

The election marks the first time a county school board member will be selected for a four-year rather than a six-year term.