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Howard County teachers’ union endorses three Board of Education candidates in general election

The Howard County teachers’ union has endorsed three candidates for the Board of Education in the general election in November.

In a news release June 23, the Howard County Education Association, which represents 7,400 school system employees, endorsed Antonia Barkley Watts in District 2, Jolene Mosley in District 3 and Cindy Vaillancourt in District 5. Union President Colleen Morris said the union will not be endorsing candidates in districts 1 or 4.

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“Our members saw this election as a chance to hold the current Board of Education accountable and to recommend candidates who will partner with us to forcefully advocate for needed funding for our schools,” Morris said in the release. “All of these candidates bring diverse experiences with them, but they share a commitment to uplifting the voice of educators, especially in tough economic times.”

In November, Howard County voters will for the first time cast a general election ballot for the Board of Education based on where they live in the county. While still a nonpartisan race, two candidates will go head to head in each of the five County Council districts. In the June 2 primary, 17 candidates ran for the 10 general election spots. The top two recipients of votes in each district advanced to the November general election.

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Two of the candidates that the teachers’ union endorsed had blowout victories in the primary. One of them was Watts, who ran away with 56% of the vote. Larry Pretlow, Watts’ general election opponent, edged out James Cecil for the second spot by 1.2%.

“Our members were particularly impressed by [the Watts] campaign’s call to listen to and unify our community, her vision for a diverse, equitable and inclusive school system and her commitment to educators as more than mere employees,” said Rebecca Otte, a fourth grade teacher at Fulton Elementary School and chair of the union’s Government Relations Committee, in the release.

Watts said she believes she was endorsed by the union due to her “diverse background” as a classroom teacher, parent and current trustee for the Howard County Library System.

“I was very excited to get the endorsement,” Watts said. “It means a lot to know the educators saw me as a possible member of the Board of Education.”

Mosley also scored an easy primary victory, garnering 66% of the vote in District 3. She now will go against Tom Heffner (26%) in the general election.

“Jolene Mosley is the clear choice for District 3,” Otte said.

“I’m very thankful. I really do appreciate the support,” said Mosley, who is on two school system advisory committees. “I think the teachers may see I do support education as a whole, in the classroom and in the school system.”

The HCEA’s final endorsement was in District 5. The union picked Vaillancourt, a former school board member from 2010 to 2018, over Yun Lu, who finished first in the primary with almost 37% of the vote. Vaillancourt, meanwhile, narrowly earned a spot on the general election ballot after finishing 66 votes ahead of Gene Ryan.

“Cindy has a proven track record of support for our public schools,” Otte said. “She has consistently stood up for educators when it counted most.”

Vaillancourt said Lu would be a “terrific” board member but added that she believes she was chosen due to her “track record.”

“There will be a lot of important stuff that will be thrown at this new board right away,” Vaillancourt said. “So all the people who join the board will really have to ... have as much experience as possible so they’re able to take confident action as quickly as possible.”

To apply for an endorsement by the union, candidates completed lengthy questionnaires, made videos and participated in video chat interviews with union members.

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The union said it was not endorsing the two incumbents — Christina Delmont-Small in District 1 and Jen Mallo in District 4.

Delmont-Small and her opponent Matthew Molyett both automatically moved on to the general as the only two candidates on the primary ballot. Mallo, meanwhile, will face off against Sezin Palmer. Mallo garnered 33% of the vote, while Palmer received 27.5% to finish ahead of incumbent Kirsten Coombs, who was seeking a second term after winning in 2016 and received 22.6% of the vote in the primary.

“It is a reminder to elected officials that our members pay close attention to what our elected officials say and do,” Morris said. “We have seen firsthand how those decisions impact our schools and our students, and we will continue to hold elected officials accountable to their promises.”

The teachers’ union wasn’t the only organization to pick its endorsements recently. The People’s Voice, a civic and political organization with 4,000 members across the county, endorsed candidates in every district except District 5. The group selected Delmont-Small, Watts, Mosley and Palmer. To read more about the group’s choices, go to peoplesvoicellc.org.

The five winners in November will join current Vice Chair Vicky Cutroneo and member Chao Wu. Cutroneo and Wu are serving as the first two at-large members. As the top two vote-getters in 2018, the two members both secured four-year terms. In 2022, Cutroneo and Wu will compete for the two at-large seats, which will be chosen by all county voters.

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