Howard County voters sweep challengers into school board seats

Capping a year that saw critics of the Howard County school system vow to sweep incumbents from the Board of Education, voters Tuesday appeared to do just that — electing a trio of newcomers to fill three available seats and potentially change the dynamics of the board.

With most of the county precincts tallied, voters had chosen challengers Kirsten Coombs, Christina Delmont-Small and Mavis Ellis to four-year terms on the board, ousting incumbent Janet Siddiqui, a Clarksville pediatrician who had been on the school board since 2007. Two other incumbents up for election this year were defeated in the primary.


"The hard work of many people paid off," said front-runner Coombs. "Many people ... sent a message that they are not happy with how their community schools are being operated. This is a vote of no confidence."

Shedding tears, school board Kirsten Coombs embraces her daughter, Lily, at an election night gallery. Coombs and fellow challengers Christina Delmont-Small and Mavis Ellis won seats on the Howard County Board of Education on Tuesday.
Shedding tears, school board Kirsten Coombs embraces her daughter, Lily, at an election night gallery. Coombs and fellow challengers Christina Delmont-Small and Mavis Ellis won seats on the Howard County Board of Education on Tuesday. (Fatimah Waseem)

Howard County has a seven-member school board, plus a nonvoting seat for a student member. The board is selected in a nonpartisan election, and three seats were up for election this year.


The new members will replace a trio that has often sided with a majority — and county schools Superintendent Renee Foose — on controversial policy decisions.

Over the past year, the school system has faced scrutiny from parents, teachers and elected officials. It is under a fiscal audit by the Howard County Council, as well as an investigation ordered by the state Senate regarding its response to public information requests.

In addition, parents have complained about issues related to the discovery of mold at Glenwood Middle School and a board decision in February — which the now-ousted incumbents supported — to give Foose a new four-year, $273,000-a-year contract.

During the primary election, several challengers emerged to face the incumbents, and five advanced to Tuesday's general election, along with Siddiqui.

The Howard County Education Association, the county's teacher union, campaigned for the challengers, with union President Paul Lemle calling the election a "referendum …on the current superintendent and board majority."

In a slim margin, Howard County voters Tuesday approved a move to allow candidates running in local races to use public funds for their campaigns. Part of a nationwide surge to purge big money from politics, the approval from voters creates a fund that would pool taxpayer funds for candidates who choose to opt-into the system.

Coombs, of Columbia, said Tuesday she believes the school board race sends a signal to Foose.

"It's time for Renee to update her resume," Coombs said. Foose "has to know that she is the employee, not the employer [of the school board] and it's not a question of working with, but a question of how this new board majority manages the superintendent."

A pupil personnel worker for Montgomery County Public Schools since 2001, Ellis has served on the boards of the Maryland State Education Association and National Education Association.

"I was impressed with the support by the teachers at the polls," Ellis said late Tuesday. "I'm exhausted but I feel very positive. … This will change everything."

Delmont-Small, former president of the PTA Council of Howard County, campaigned for increased accountability and transparency of the school board.

At the polls Tuesday, several people campaigned on anti-incumbent sentiments. Paul Verchinski, an Oakland Mills resident, was at Jeffers Hill Elementary School in Columbia encouraging voters to support Coombs, Delmont-Small, Ellis and fellow challenger Vicky Cutroneo.

Verchinski said he hoped for a "clean sweep" on the board to remove incumbents.


That feeling wasn't universal, however. Barb Krupiarz, a mother of two students in county schools, was outside Ilchester Elementary School in Ellicott City, said she didn't sense the same anti-incumbent sentiment that existed in the primary.

In Carroll County, four candidates were vying to fill two open school seats. Retired Carroll County schools teacher Marsha Herbert of Westminster and actuary Donna Sivigny of Finksburg defeated Howard County teacher Julie Kingsley of Mount Airy and former Carroll County schools instructional assistant Mary Kowalski.

In Anne Arundel County, voters were asked to approve or decline Gov. Larry Hogan's five appointees on the county Board of Education. Julie Hummer, Tom Frank, Eric Grannon, Terry Gilleland Jr. and Maria Sasso all had wide support with most of county precincts reporting.

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Andrew Michaels, Cindy Huang and Emily Chappell contributed to this article.

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