Sandra French is quick to point out that some local Howard County organizations did not support her re-election to the Board of Education and added that the tone of this year's campaign was often contentious.
Still, it was apparent during September's primary that many voters in the county approve of the job she has done, as she finished with the most votes among 11 candidates. That support was solidified on Election Night when she won re-election, continuing her run as one of the longest-serving board members in the county's history.
"What I heard was the voice of the people, and I'm deeply in debt to the individual voters who looked at my years of service and looked at what I've done, and agreed that I should continue," said French.
As of Thursday evening, French had more than 45,000 votes to place second overall behind fellow incumbent Frank Aquino, who had more than 46,000. In an election marked by nationwide dissent over incumbents, Aquino and French each distanced themselves from any of the new candidates by more than 15,000 votes.
"Whatever anti-incumbent feelings there may have been locally and nationally, it did not seem to impact the Howard Board of Education race," said Aquino. "We have a truly phenomenal school system. It is really a treasure.
"There are many people in the county, while they know improvements can be made, who have been pleased with the performance of the current board," Aquino added. "Sandy brings a wealth of experience, and I have grown in the four years I've served. I take great pride in seeing that the public school system remains strong in its academic performance."
The incumbents captured two of the four seats up for election; as of Thursday, the two remaining spots were still undecided. Cindy Vaillancourt, Brian Meshkin and David Proudfoot led the way in battling for the final spots, as about 6,000 absentee and provisional ballots were still being counted. Results aren't expected to be known until about Nov. 22.
For French, the re-election capped a day of greeting voters at stops around the county. A former board president and vice president, French has served longer than any board member — 16 years — since the county began electing members in 1974.
"It's been a long haul," said French. "Whatever you can do to make the classroom more successful and the students and the teachers more successful, that's our job. We have to advocate for that."
She said regardless of the final makeup of the board, the group must set aside any differences and move forward.
"We have to," said French. "It should not be about individual board member's philosophies or agendas. It should be how do we move the school system forward and help each child become successful.
She said that among the issues awaiting the new board are coming up with a plan of action for the county to conform to the federal Race to the Top grant, which, among other things, requires that school systems adopt standards to ensure that students succeed in college and the global workplace.
French said that the board must also "come up with some measure, which is mandated by law, that will evaluate both administrators and teachers on their performance based on student growth. That's a major, major issue."
Then there are financial challenges. French said that school officials are concerned that if the state legislature moves responsibility for employee pensions to local jurisdictions, it would take millions of dollars out of education coffers.
"The easy solution, everybody says, [is] 'Oh, you're going to have to increase [class] size,'" said French. "I don't want to do that. That is too easy a solution, and it's going to set us back by decades. We'll look at other ways."
Board of Education results
As of Thursday evening, these were the results in the race for four school board seats. About 6,000 provisional and absentee ballots had not yet been counted.
Candidate; votes; % of votes
Frank J. Aquino; 46,591; 17.7
Sandra H. French; 45,386; 17.3
Brian Meshkin; 30,055; 11.4
Cindy Vaillancourt; 29,251; 11.1
David E. Proudfoot; 29,009; 11.0
Robert D. Ballinger; 28,078; 10.7
Leslie Kornreich; 27,729; 10.5
Larry Walker; 25,937; 9.9