Robert Ballinger and David Gertler both ran unsuccessfully for the Howard County school board in 2010. They are candidates again and say their unsuccessful attempts have left them optimistic about their chances this year.
"I feel stronger about this campaign because I was so close the last time," said Ballinger.
Ballinger advanced to the November 2010 general election, where he finished sixth in the race for four seats with 10.6 percent of the vote. He was 1,363 votes behind fourth-place finisher Cindy Vaillancourt.
Two years ago, Gertler finished ninth among the 11 primary candidates, garnering 6 percent of the vote.
"I missed out on a number of key endorsements, and I was really only in the race for 101/2 weeks," said Gertler, who added that, though he didn't advance past the primary, "I thought it was a wonderful experience for me personally. I honestly felt that it brought out some of the best qualities I had."
The two candidates, who are both from Ellicott City, said they decided to run again after they were encouraged to do so late last year, when only a few candidates had emerged. Both filed in early January.
Fourteen candidates, including three incumbents, are running for three open seats. The primary will be held in April to narrow the field, with the general election in November.
This is Ballinger's third run for a school board seat. He also ran unsuccessfully in 2004.
Ballinger said that he has name recognition now and wants "to better our classroom, make teachers more effective and give them a bigger voice in our school system. People are saying, 'Those ideas are the ideas we need.'"
Gertler said this year's effort is a far cry from 2010, when he entered the race late and had just one person working with him on his campaign, a friend he asked to serve as his treasurer. This year, he said, several people who encouraged him to run have signed on to stage meet-and-greet events for his candidacy.
"I got to meet a lot of people and get involved. There are a lot of things I learned, having gone through it once, that I'm trying to do differently this time," Gertler said. "I am trying to learn from last time and build a little bit more of an organization."
Like other nonincumbents running in this year's election, Gertler and Ballinger voiced displeasure with the current school board, which is often criticized for highly publicized personality clashes.
"I'm not sure that the current board is as effective and as focused on improving our schools as they could be," said Gertler. "It's a matter of how they act and how much time is spent on procedural issues and not policy issues."
Ballinger took his criticism a step further: "There are people who are upset with the way the school board is now," he said. "You spend a third of your time talking about removal of a school board member, and a school board member is suing," he said, referring to the case of Allen Dyer, who is running for re-election. Let's get away from that. Let's make sure teachers are heard, that classrooms are the best in the nation, and let's give them the best technology in a fiscal way."
Ballinger said he will ensure that parents and teachers have more of a say in school policy.
"I think that because of last year, especially the decision about reading in the middle school, there is an understanding that they don't believe that the board still listens to parents and teachers," said Ballinger, referring to thel board's adoption of a new program that includes eliminating traditional reading classes.
Ballinger added, "We need to have a functioning school budget that makes sure every child gets a quality education in the classroom, but we need to be fiscally responsible."
Gertler said he wants to make sure the county prepares for a future in education that he believes will be more technology-based. He said he hopes to work with the board and superintendent on crafting a five- to 10-year plan about moving the school system toward a digital transformation.
"There's a digital transformation that will occur beyond smart boards, beyond digital textbooks. It is really looking at the structure of education and how the consumption, creation and delivery of education could be — and should be — totally transformed and improved significantly over the next few years," he said.