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In a night of close races, Epps tops Murray for school board

Only 120 votes separated the two candidates in the race for the District 1 seat on the Prince George’s County Board of Education, but in Wednesday’s early morning hours, Zabrina Epps defeated David Murray in the general election.

“I’m very humbled, I’m very grateful, I’m extremely blessed,” Epps said at a results watching party at Red Sky restaurant in Laurel. “I just want to serve the children. It’s really not about me, it’s about excellence in our schools, which is what children in Prince George’s County deserve. ... I'm going to continue to do what I've already done, which is advocate for student success. Excellence is the only option.”

Epps, 40, of Laurel, and Murray, 20, of Bowie, were neck-and-neck as the polls closed and votes were tallied. At one point, only three votes separated the two.

But early voting benefited Epps: While Murray received more votes on Election Day, Epps pulled in more during early voting — 2,609 to Murray’s 2,070.

With all 23 District 1 precincts reporting, Murray had 12,569 votes, while Epps eked out a win with 12,689. She will be sworn into her seat at the board’s meeting Monday, Dec. 3.

Murray could not immediately be reached for comment, but earlier Tuesday, while electioneering at the Phelps Center in Laurel, he said he was “feeling pretty good,” and was getting “positive reports.”

“I’m grateful for all the support,” he said.

This was Murray’s second run for the board. In 2010, he lost to then-incumbent Rosalind Johnson by only 998 votes.

In the April 3 primary, Murray defeated Epps by 25 percentage points and roughly 1,500 votes.

Epps is an academic advisor at the Community College of Baltimore County. During the primary, she said she often sees students who arrive at college unprepared academically, and who must take remedial courses. Seeing that day after day at her job propelled her to throw her name into the ring, Epps said. It was a decision she came to gradually over the course of a year, also spurred on by an eight-month Educational Policy Fellows Program she attended through the Institution for Educational Leadership in Washington.

Epps is a former budget analyst for the Maryland General Assembly, and has cited her budget know-how as an asset she could bring to the table, as well as her relationship with elected officials. Through her campaign, she gained the support of the District 21 delegation, County Executive Rushern Baker III, Laurel Mayor Craig Moe and Michael McLaughlin, a longtime advocate for students' needs, who was Epps' opponent in the District 1 race before dropping out in March.

Epps also had the support of former District 1 representative Johnson, who resigned from her position last month after it was discovered she had been living in New Carrollton since June, meaning she had been violating Maryland law for four months by representing a district in which she no longer lived.

Johnson, 68, formerly of Laurel, had moved out of her district to care for her dying mother, and had planned to retire when her term concluded. She had served on the board since 2006.

The board voted Oct. 23 to erase Johnson's name from all records during the four months she was living outside her district.

Murray is a student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where he majors in economics. A 2010 graduate of Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, he served as the student member of the Maryland State Board of Education. Murray's primary goals in running for the board were increasing student achievement and restoring public trust in the school system. He had championed merit-based pay for teachers and greater involvement from communities and parents.

At Red Sky after the polls closed, Epps said she thought Murray was bright, but she has more experience in education and finance. Through her experience working at CCBC-Catonsville, Epps said she was “hoping to bring the perspective of higher education to K-12.”

New face in Howard

The Howard County Board of Education added a new face after two incumbents and one first-time challenger took the top three spots in this year’s race. Janet Siddiqui, who has served on the board since 2007, finished first with 63,949 votes. Former teacher and past president of the Howard County Education Association Ann De Lacy finished second with 48,308 votes. The other incumbent, Ellen Giles, who has served since 2006, won a third term with 47,704 votes.

De Lacy said her win means the board now has a former Howard County teacher in its ranks “for the first time in many years.”

“It means ... they have someone who knows the system extremely well, from a broad perspective, and someone who’s going to ask tough questions and expect honest answers,” De Lacy said. “My whole goal is to ensure the Howard County public schools offer a world-class education to all students, and that our focus is no longer on test scores as the major barometer for determining how well our students are doing.”

Ellen Fishel and Luke Lavoie contributed to this story.

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