Exhausted and excited, four Howard County school board candidates were celebrating yesterday their survival of Tuesday's nonpartisan primary, earning them a chance to compete for two available seats in the Nov. 3 general election.
Tuesday's big winner was incumbent Sandra H. French, who captured 32.82 percent of the vote. French -- a former English teacher who has mentioned equity among local schools and the achievement gap among students of different races as priority issues -- said she was "dumbstruck" but encouraged by the vote percentage that she received.
The three other candidates who will compete in the November election are former substitute teacher Laura Waters, transportation manager Glenn Amato and engineer Arthur Neal Willoughby. The top two candidates in the general election will be part of a five-member school board and will be paid $9,900 annually for a six-year term.
"I'm just so grateful for the message that people are willing to give me a second chance and that people think I'm doing a good job," said French, a 54-year-old Ellicott City resident who once taught at Glen Burnie High School. "I've proven that I would do what I promised. I ran on my record and I'm going to continue running on my record because it isn't over yet."
Several voters said Tuesday that French had done a good job in her first term.
"She has been there to give me advice and so forth," said Steve Shapero, a 47-year-old teacher from Columbia who voted for French. "She has the experience and a very good reputation with people."
Waters, a 51-year-old Columbia resident, took 15.3 percent of the vote. Waters said her message of establishing a more consistent discipline policy in Howard County's schools struck a chord with voters.
"I'm very excited," Waters said of the primary results. "I just think that people wanted a change in the schools. I think that's why it worked."
Some of Waters' supporters had another theory, she said.
"Somebody suggested that maybe wearing a hat in my pictures helped," Waters said of the Matt Drudge-like cap that she wore for her campaign photos. "You never know, though."
Robert Ardinger, a Columbia civil rights expert and advocate for the disabled, said Tuesday that Waters would serve well on the school board.
"She's very raw and eccentric, but if there's ever been a good advocate for special education and children with special needs, it would be her," said Ardinger, who voted for Waters.
Amato, who decided to run for school board after a dispute with the school system over the education of his son, Gordon, said parents related to his situation. Amato -- who won 13.63 percent of the vote -- said his family was at odds with school officials for years because Gordon was being passed although he was not learning basic skills.
The Amatos have since enrolled their son, who has attention deficit disorder and dyslexia, in Anne Arundel County's Summit School for learning-disabled children. Tuition is $15,800 a year, Amato said.
The candidate said several people called him after a story about the situation ran in the Howard County Times last month.
"I think what this does show is a dissatisfaction with the present way that the school board is operating," said Amato, a 42-year-old Hanover resident.
"I got a lot of votes because I'm going on the [platform] that the school system needs to be accountable for their actions. I think a lot of people have had issues with that," he said.
Amato said he planned to step up his campaigning in the coming weeks.
"Obviously, since I wasn't No. 1 or No. 2, I'm definitely going to have to try harder," Amato said.
Jessup resident Willoughby, 40, said he hoped to develop radio and television spots to enhance his campaign for the general election. With 11.95 percent of the vote, the candidate expressed confidence about his chances in November.
Willoughby ran for a school board seat in 1992 but did not win.
"I think that the parents of Howard County are concerned about the education of their children and they want to choose the best candidate to take their children into the 21st century," said Willoughby, who said he would push for more science and technology education, if elected. "I want the best candidate to win. I feel as if my chances are just as good as the other candidates."
French and Waters said they were disappointed that few pre-primary forums were held exclusively for school board candidates. Next month, the PTA Council of Howard County plans to hold a roundtable discussion that includes the four primary winners.
"We are constantly being given short shrift, and people are not paying attention to a very critical position," French said.
This election year may be particularly crucial because school board members eventually will select a replacement for Superintendent Michael E. Hickey, who plans to retire in two years.
Losers in Tuesday's primary were accountant Jerry D. Johnston, with 9.24 percent; lawyer Lee S. Ashmore, with 9 percent; and private school teacher Alfreda Gill, with 8.06 percent.
Pub Date: 9/17/98