Candidates eyeing Howard Board of Education seats in 2018

Chao Wu, Robert Miller and Saif Rehman have filed to run in the 2018 election for Howard County Board of Education.
Chao Wu, Robert Miller and Saif Rehman have filed to run in the 2018 election for Howard County Board of Education. (Submitted photos)

Four seats will open on the Howard County Board of Education in 2018 and, so far, three challengers have filed to run.

School board members are elected to four-year terms, which will expire in December 2018 for members Cindy Vaillancourt, Bess Altwerger, Sandra French and Ananta Hejeebu. Hejeebu was appointed to the board in May and is finishing the term of former board member Christine O’Connor after her resignation earlier this year.


Vaillancourt, Altwerger and Hejeebu said they’ve not yet made decisions about running for re-election. French could not be reached for comment.

The terms for board members Kirsten Coombs, Christina Delmont-Small and Mavis Ellis expire in 2020. All three members were elected in November 2016.

The first challenger to County Executive Allan Kittleman has filed to run in the 2018 election, as well as the first Democrat in the race for the District 5 County Council seat and the first candidate in the District 9 state Senate race.

Robert Miller, a retired Howard County music teacher, returns to the ballot for the second time and is the latest candidate to file, joining first-time candidates Chao Wu and Saif Rehman.

As a former educator in the school system, Miller said he would bring a teacher and parent’s perspective to the board. The Columbia resident taught fourth through 12th grade over a 34-year career and said he hopes to promote and increase individualization among students.

“What is most important for student learning will vary from student to student,” Miller said. “This would involve efforts to provide more time for educators to attend to individual student and family circumstances, potentials and desires as well as the implementation of appropriate school system supports to enable all of our students to have outstanding educational opportunities.”

Wu, who currently has children in the school system, said his time on the Columbia Association’s Board of Directors has shown him how to incorporate diversity and equity into the decision-making process. Wu has represented the Columbia Village of River Hill on the association’s board and been a board member of the River Hill Village Association since 2015.

Giving children the motivation to achieve is crucial to his platform, Wu said.

“If our children are motivated to learn and excel, there will be no difficulties we could not overcome,” he said. “Each child has different potential and the teacher and school should help to find it and drive the student to achieve that with help from their families.”

Rehman said leadership, accountability and transparency are important traits to have as a board member, which is why he decided to run next year. The 12-year Howard County resident is the CEO of NextGen Consulting in Washington, D.C., providing consultation and technology reseller services to the government and commercial organizations.

Howard County has a history of strong civic engagement and generally good governance, with voters using the ballot box to bring about change. Voters will take note of candidates in county races who are loathe to choose civility. Let the campaigns begin, with spirited debate and none of the bile that has been spewed nationally.

Despite the board’s transformation in the 2016 election when newcomers ousted members Janet Siddiqui, Ellen Flynn Giles and Ann DeLacy, also knocking out two additional incumbents out of the race in the primaries, Rehman said, “the change is not complete.”

“To be successful, we need leadership that will empower more voices and bring everyone into the education process,” he said. “We need more transparency from the board and administration so that complex issues, like redistricting, don’t become acrimonious.”

Budgets should also be examined carefully before approval to ensure the community their tax dollars are spent wisely, Rehman said.