Candidates in Baltimore City and County’s closely watched school board races are anxiously awaiting mail-in ballot counts this week even as some worried the races did not generate enough voter interest.
Eight candidates are running in Baltimore City’s first-ever school board race this year to fill two newlycreated seats. Baltimore’s 10 school board commissioners were appointed previously by the mayor until the Maryland General Assembly voted in 2016 added two elected seats beginning in 2022.
The change came with the support of the Baltimore Teachers Union, which lobbied for it, and aligned the city with other jurisdictions around the state that have done away with fully appointed boards in recent years, such as Baltimore County. City school board members are elected at-large to serve four-year terms.
As of Tuesday, more than 21,000 city voters and 35,000 county voters had returned mail-in ballots, meaning the elections are not yet decided and results could change dramatically in the coming days.
Still, front runners in both races were optimistic about their edge with people who voted by mail. Only four city school board candidates will appear on the ballot in November, when voters will select just two names for the new seats.
Baltimore City school board candidate and community activist Ashley Esposito was in the lead Wednesday, garnering 19.3% of votes cast in person. The city school parent said she wants people to have a voice in the city’s education plans.
“For me, this is a way to engage people regardless of party affiliation,” Esposito said. “Everyone cares about schools.”
Candidates Kwame Kenyatta-Bey, a longtime teacher at Patterson High School, and April Christina Curley, a former Google employee who filed a racial discrimination suit against the company, trailed close behind Esposito with 15.1% and 14.8%, respectively.
Not far behind with 13%, education advocate Michael Eugene Johnson had a slight lead over former Digital Harbor High School special educator Salimah Jasani, who earned 12.6% of votes counted thus far. The Baltimore Teachers Union had endorsed Esposito and Jasani ahead of the primary election.
Candidates Kevin W. Parson, Karen Yosafat Beleck and Cortly “C.D.” Witherspoon also garnered 9%, 8.3% and 8% apiece.
At least three candidates — Jasani, Johnson and Parson — worried there was not enough awareness of the school board race in Baltimore City after speaking with voters at the polls Tuesday.
Johnson said he didn’t fault the voters. He felt other city leaders and elected officials could have done more to generate awareness.
“People at the polls want to be informed,” he said.
Baltimore County school board primary races were competitive in districts one, two and four. The top two candidates in each district will appear on the November ballot.
Prior to the primary, the county saw campaigns to bolster the number of conservative candidates for the school board, which has grappled with infighting since transitioning to a hybrid model of elected and appointed members in 2018. However, the races have failed to attract substantial numbers of candidates and few incumbents are running again.
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In District 1, candidate Robin Harvey, who currently works for the Baltimore County Commission for Women, held a significant lead Wednesday with nearly 61.5% of counted votes. Opponents Cory Koons and George Roycroft III hold 21.6% and 16.9% of votes so far, respectively.
Career educator Jane E. Lichter is a frontrunner for District 2 with nearly 40% of votes. Candidates Rebecca Chesner and LaShaune Stitt appear neck-in-neck for the second spot in the general election. Chesner gained 30.2% of votes, and Stitt has 29.8%.
There are four candidates in District 4 vying for the general election spots. Brenda Hatcher-Savoy, another educator, is ahead with 35.8% of votes. Samay Singh Kindra, J. Michael Collins and Autrese M. Thornton garnered 25%, 24.2% and 15% of votes each.
Children 1st, a conservative education PAC, endorsed several school board candidates including Koons, Chesner and Collins. The PAC has ties to a parent group called the Baltimore County Parent and Student Coalition.
Harvey, Lichter and Kindra all received endorsements from County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., a Democrat, as well as two unions representing educators in Baltimore County schools.
Kindra, a 24-year-old law student, said he is waiting “anxiously” for the mail-in ballots.
“We’re pretty confident we’ll see a lot of mail-in ballots go in our favor,” Kindra said.