Three incumbents in Prince George’s County faced tough challenges in their reelection bids for school board as candidates running to unseat them took early leads in Tuesday’s primary.
In Montgomery County, Phil Kauffman, who was running to keep his at-large seat, held a wide lead over his three opponents. Kauffman, a lawyer, had 61 percent of the votes with 150 of the precincts reporting, compared with 16 percent for Morris Panner, an entrepreneur. In District 2, Fred Evans, a former county schools principal, was leading the pack in the five-person race to fill a seat vacated by board member Laura Berthiaume. Jeanne Ellinport, a public relations consultant and longtime parent advocate, was neck and neck with Rebecca Smondrowski, a former legislative aide.
Voters in Prince George’s chose among 18 people vying for five district seats on the nine-member board. One closely watched race involved one of the board’s most senior members, Jeana Jacobs, a six-year incumbent in District 5 faced off against three people, including an 18-year-old undergraduate at the University of Maryland at College Park.
With 84 percent of the precincts reporting, the student, Raaheela Ahmed, had won 35 percent of the vote to Jacobs’s 25 percent.
The other incumbents facing stiff challenges in Prince George’s were Patricia Eubanks in District 4 and Henry P. Armwood Jr. in District 7. Micah Watson received 35 percent of the vote with more than 75 percent of the precincts reporting in District 4, and Carletta Fellows took 27 percent of the tally with 71 percent of the precincts reporting in District 7.
Two candidates, including a 20-year-old college student, vied to fill the District 1 seat being vacated by Rosalind Johnson, who is retiring. In District 8, incumbent Edward Burroughs III, 19, won with more than 68 percent of the vote with 83 percent of the precincts reporting. In November, he will face Andre Nottingham, who received 14 percent of the vote.
In both jurisdictions, the two top vote-getters for each seat in the nonpartisan races will compete in November’s general election, which means voters will have another chance to weigh in on the composition of their future school boards.
With few high-profile races in the heavily Democratic districts and a spring break schedule that had some faithful voters out of town, many candidates expected a slow and unpredictable day.
In Rockville, many of those who walked past the school board’s meeting room to cast ballots in the partisan races said they skipped the school board question or took their best guess at a reliable candidate.
Nelly LaBennett, a 63-year-old former substitute teacher from Rockville, said she voted for Lou August in Montgomery’s at-large race because she thought that, based on the name, the candidate might be a woman. “I was looking for a lady to vote for,” she said.
August was actually one of the three men hoping to unseat Kauffman.
Incoming school board members in Montgomery will oversee a 146,000-student system and a budget of more than $2 billion. Working with a still-new superintendent, they will need to manage the challenges of growing enrollment and an increase in the number of children in poverty.
The challenges are somewhat different in Prince George’s, where the school system has experienced a steady decline in enrollment over the past decade and is struggling to find ways to draw parents back into the system. Many have chosen private school or home schooling over the county’s public schools.
And as the 123,000-student enrollment falls, the number of students from poor families increases. The system has made strides on standardized tests, but it continues to rank near the bottom statewide.
Both boards have the challenge of meeting ever-growing academic expectations while rolling out a new set of national standards and standardized tests.
In Prince George’s, the incumbents stressed the need for continuity in a system that has had a long history of leadership turnover. No schools superintendent since 1999 has lasted in the job more than four years. Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. has held the job for three. They argued that they need more time to make the necessary changes in the system.
But Michael Rosier, 60, a lawyer from Bowie, said he decided to vote against Jacobs in the District 5 race because of a “gut reaction.” He wouldn’t elaborate, only adding that he selected Sherine Taylor, a human-resources specialist from Upper Marlboro who was making her first run for the board.
After casting his ballot at Bowie High School, Robert Hysan, a 62-year-old teacher, also voted against the incumbent. He said he voted for Ahmed, “the only person who came to my door” in the District 5 race.
“I know she’s awful young, and she may get eaten up alive,” he said. “But let’s give the kids a chance.”
One race in each jurisdiction was decided before polls opened because each drew only two candidates.
Zabrina Epps, 40, a Laurel resident, will face David Murray, 20, a Bowie resident, in November to replace Johnson in District 1 in Prince George’s. Epps, an academic adviser at a community college, is making her first run for a seat on the board, while Murray, a former student member of the Maryland State Board of Education and a full-time college student, is on his second attempt. Murray nearly defeated Johnson about two years ago, losing by 1,000 votes. Epps and Murray were the only ones on the ballot in the district.
Montgomery board member Christopher S. Barclay, who is seeking reelection, will head straight to the November ballot against Annita Seckinger. There were no other challengers in the race for the District 4 seat.