The Washington Post

College students topple front-runners in Pr. George’s school races

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that the school system’s budget is $1.6 million. It is $1.6 billion. This version has been updated.

The president of the Council of Prince George’s County PTAs said her phone has been ringing nonstop since final results from Tuesday’s primary election were reported.

The main topic of conversation: Edward Burroughs III, Raaheela Ahmed and David Murray, two teenagers and a 20-year-old who crushed their opponents in the school board races and are now the front-runners heading into November’s general election.

Burroughs, 19, a student at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, won 67 percent of the vote in his reelection bid. Murray, 20, also a UMBC student, captured 56 percent of the vote in his race. And in one of the county’s most closely watched races, Ahmed, a student at the University of Maryland at College Park and the youngest of the trio at 18, received 34 percent of the vote, beating her closest opponent, school board Chairman Jeana Jacobs, who got 25 percent of the vote.

“The voting is a reflection of a strong desire for change,” said Theresa Saunders, the head of the county PTA group, characterizing the sentiments of some parents who called her about the outcome. “I don’t think they [were] looking at the age. They [were] looking at change.”

All of the incumbents facing challengers, except Burroughs, lost their races.

Raaheela Ahmed (Courtesy of Raaheela Ahmed)

National school board officials said the election of a teenager to a school board is not unusual, but most of them serve in small districts across the country. The possibility that three members under 21 would serve on a single board in a system as large as Prince George’s County would be rare, officials said.

In a 2010 survey, the National School Boards Association found that 4.6 percent of the board members who responded were under age 40.

“I think it’s terrific,” said Anne L. Bryant, the executive director of the National School Boards Association. “We teach civics in our schools and I think it’s a great sign of a new generation of involvement.”

Carl W. Smith, the executive director of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, agreed, saying, “That’s what we’re trying to get in a democracy. We practically harangue them to get out and vote.”

The young candidates used their recent experience in the school system as part of the focus of their campaigns.

“My thirteen years in Prince George’s schools is fresh in my mind,” Ahmed said. “I believe that is a good asset to base my decisions in the future.”

Ahmed, who is gearing up for her general campaign, said she realizes she and her fellow college students may have a tough battle ahead.

They’ll have to persuade parents such as Angie Boulware to cast votes for them.

“I know we want to cultivate our young people to take a leadership role, but how are they going to run a [$1.6 billion] budget?” Boulware asked. “Do they know how to run a household budget?”

Boulware said she is concerned about the direction of the system, which has been plagued by a history of low achievement in many schools, political infighting and rapid leadership turnover. For the past decade, the system has experienced a steady decline in enrollment.

Smith said age should not be relevant. The law says if you are 18 or older and are eligible to vote, you are allowed to run for school board, he said.

Camilla R. Marshall, a parent who lives in Mitchellville, said the young candidates should be commended for their involvement. “I think the youth are crying out because of the failures of the adults,” Marshall said. “They see what is wrong. . . . I think they want to be a part of the solution.”

Ovetta Wiggins covers Maryland state politics in Annapolis.

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