Baltimore County’s first-ever school board election will provide competitive races in both the June primary and November general contests after a bumpy rollout led many observers to worry that few candidates would seek the positions.
The county’s new hybrid Board of Education will be made up of seven elected members and five people named by the governor, who currently appoints the entire board. By Tuesday’s filing deadline, multiple candidates had declared candidacies for each of the seven positions that will represent each of County Council’s seven districts.
The 29 candidates who filed their campaigns Tuesday have guaranteed voters competitive races in the June 26 primary election and in the Nov. 6 general election.
Judith Miller, chairwoman of the League of Women Voters of Baltimore County’s education committee, said she was pleased so many candidates were running — even though she had not heard of most of them.
“The league had hoped it would be a competitive race,” Miller said. “We hope it’s an honestly competitive race and that these candidates are all people who are concerned about the quality of education for our county.”
The organization originally had supported a fully elected board but compromised with elected officials and others who preferred a mix of appointed and elected members.
“We hope this will draw attention to the Board of Education,” said Miller, who remains concerned that many county residents are unaware of the new election.
She and others had been worried about how little interest potential candidates had shown in the race.
Just two weeks ago only five people had filed to run for the elected seats on a hybrid board that the Maryland General Assembly created with legislation in 2014 that many said at the time was widely supported.
“I’m very glad that so many people are interested in serving on the school board,” said Del. Stephen Lafferty, a Baltimore County Democrat. “The slow roll at the beginning gave us concern about whether people were paying attention.”
He and others were also worried that the previous lack of candidates so close to the filing deadline was the result of confusion in the school system and at the Board of Elections over candidate filing requirements and about ballots.
While candidates technically had until Feb. 27 to file their paperwork, the county required them to first submit financial disclosure forms that had to be approved by the school system’s ethics review panel.
But the panel’s last meeting before the deadline was Feb. 15. That effectively made it impossible for anyone who decided to file for the election after that date to actually do so.
But the school system changed the process at the last minute to fix the problem.
Confusion also arose when county election officials could not say whether candidates for the nonpartisan seats would appear on the primary ballots or just on the general election ballots.
If only one or two candidates files to run in a district, their names will not appear on primary ballots. Voters will decide the seat in November.
If three or more candidates file in a district, their names will appear on the primary ballot, and the top two finishers will then face off in November.
Only two current board members face electoral challenges. Kathleen Causey will be running against seven candidates in the primary election for District 3 in northern Baltimore County. And Julie Henn faces one of the only well-known challengers, Peter Beilenson, the former health commissioner for Baltimore city and Howard County.
The race between Henn and Beilenson in District 5 — which stretches from Towson to Perry Hall — will not be decided until November because they were the only two candidates to declare.
Anyone who is still interested in seeking a seat on the school board can apply to be considered for an appointment. The nominating committee for those appointments will be accepting applications through March 16.
They can be mailed to the nominating commission, care of Debi Decker, at 6901 North Charles Street, Towson, MD 21204.