Diane B. Mikulis and Mary Kay Sigaty won seats on the Howard County Board of Education yesterday, according to late results.
With nearly all of the county's 98 precincts reporting last night, Mikulis, a freelance writer from Ellicott City, held a significant lead in the race. Sigaty, a Columbia theater consultant, edged out a narrow victory over Ellicott City lawyer Frank Aquino in a contest that had remained tight throughout the evening.
Two charter amendments, one dealing with vacancies on the County Council and the other with removing members from boards or commissions, passed by large margins.
Betty Nordaas, county elections director, said preliminary numbers showed voter turnout would be lower than the anticipated 80 percent but higher than the 60 to 65 percent seen during off-year elections. There are 164,198 registered voters in the county.
School board members are elected at large in nonpartisan races. Their terms are staggered, and this year's election was held to fill the seats of Sandra H. French and James P. O'Donnell.
During the March primary, voters picked Sigaty, Mikulis, Aquino and O'Donnell from a field of nine candidates to compete in the general election.
O'Donnell finished third in the primary race but withdrew his bid this summer, saying he was taking responsibility for several controversial decisions the board had made. French, who spent 12 years on the board, did not run for reelection.
In the school board race, Sigaty was the only candidate with previous political experience. She ran unsuccessfully for County Council in 2002 against Ken Ulman (D-West Columbia) and for Columbia Council in 2001. Aquino and Mikulis have children in the school system and have served on several PTAs. Sigaty's two daughters graduated from Wilde Lake High School. Only one current board member, Chairman Courtney Watson, has children in the public schools.
While the candidates appeared at a number of forums and campaigned door-to-door, the campaign was relatively low-key with few significant differences emerging. All three candidates were well acquainted with the hot-button issue of redistricting. They emphasized a need to minimize school boundary line changes by developing more accurate enrollment projections and a long-term plan for growth. But they also said that some redistricting is inevitable in the fast-growing county, which has more than 47,000 students.
Mikulis and Aquino touted their backgrounds in business during their campaigns. Aquino has served on the county's spending and affordability committee and on the school board's operating budget committee. Mikulis raised the most money -- $11,321, according to the latest state finance report. The report also showed that Sigaty raised $9,208; Aquino received $4,120.
School system funding also has been an important topic. Nearly three-quarters of the $58 million raised from an excise tax increase adopted last year has helped pay for the county's 12th high school, scheduled to open in August.
With two new elementary schools on next fiscal year's budget, as well as a host of repairs to aging schools, the three candidates argued for a more open budget process and a long-range facilities plan.
One charter amendment on the ballot provided that vacant County Council seats be filled by special election. Currently, the political party of the outgoing candidate effectively names a successor. The other clarified the procedure for removing members of boards or commissions appointed by the council.
Staff writer Alicia Cypress contributed to this report.