With little time to win over voters, the candidates for the Howard County Board of Education -- Frank J. Aquino, Diane B. Mikulis and Mary Kay Sigaty -- have been waving signs and organizing poll workers in the final days of what has been largely a friendly race.
On Tuesday, Howard voters will choose two of them to fill the seats of outgoing board members Sandra H. French and James O'Donnell. The school board comprises five elected, nonpartisan members who run at large for four-year terms.
Growth and redistricting have dominated the race this year. Parents soon will learn who will attend Marriott's Ridge, the county's 12th high school, which is scheduled to open in August. Redistricting could affect every county high school as hundreds of students are moved from crowded schools to those with empty seats.
Although few significant distinctions have emerged on the major topics, the candidates have shown some differences in their ability to raise money.
Mikulis, a freelance writer from Ellicott City, had raised $11,321, according to the latest state finance report. That's about $2,000 more than Sigaty, a former teacher, and nearly triple the amount reported by Aquino, an Ellicott City lawyer.
Mikulis has received donations from two prominent public officials: a small contribution by state Sen. Sandra B. Schrader (R-Howard) and a $250 donation from the campaign of County Council member Allan H. Kittleman (R-West County), according to the report released late last week. Council Chairman Guy Guzzone (D-Southeast County) donated $25 to all three candidates.
Mikulis said that her strategy for fundraising was simply "knowing a lot of people" and that she has been active in the five Howard schools her three children have attended.
"I didn't have a lot of huge donations, no major businesses or anything like that," Mikulis said. "That I take as a sign that people really want to see me in that position."
Aquino landed support from some key political groups, including $50 from the Ellicott City Democratic Club and $200 from the Democratic Women of Howard County. Aquino also received a $125 contribution from County Council member Christopher J. Merdon (R-Northeast County).
"Raising money is the absolutely worst thing you have to do when running for office," Aquino said this week. "These are people who have faith in me to do a good job, and I hope not to let them down."
Sigaty raised $9,208, relying in part on an extensive network of support built during her two previous bids for public office, which were unsuccessful. She received a $700 donation, the largest to any candidate, from Citizens for C. Vernon Gray. Gray, a former County Council member, lost a bid for state Senate in 2002 to Schrader and is expected to run again in 2006 for that job.
Sigaty also received $50 from Del. Elizabeth Bobo (D-Howard) and $25 from French.
Other political contributions to Sigaty include $200 from the Democratic Women of Howard County and $50 from the Ellicott City Democratic Club. Sigaty has also received $50 from Joseph Staub, head of the county teachers union; Patricia T. Rouse, wife of Columbia founder James Rouse; and Mary Catherine Cochran, sister of school board Chairman Courtney Watson.
In the March 2 primary election, voters chose four people from a field of nine to compete in Tuesday's election. Sigaty received the most votes, followed by Mikulis, O'Donnell and Aquino. O'Donnell later withdrew from the race, saying he was taking responsibility for several controversial decisions the board had made.
While acknowledging that some redistricting is inevitable, the three candidates agreed that school boundary changes should be minimized. They also agreed on the need to create a long-range financing plan and to focus more on student achievement.
Aquino and Mikulis have children in the school system. Sigaty's two daughters graduated from Wilde Lake High School in Columbia.