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Elections

Jacky McCoy, Linfeng Chen win Howard County’s two at-large school board seats; all County Council incumbents reelected

Jacky McCoy and Linfeng Chen won the two at-large Howard County Board of Education seats after county results were certified and posted online Friday by the state Board of Elections.

McCoy, of Columbia, finished first with 53,800 votes (27.62%), followed by Chen, of North Laurel, with 51,541 (26.46%), Dan Newberger, of Columbia, had 50,636 (25.99%), while Tudy Adler, of Clarksville, finished with 37,812 (19.41%).

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“I feel relieved,” Chen said Friday after results were posted. “I think people have recognized that we need some independent voice on a school board. … It’s a lot of work ahead and I’m ready.”

The results came one week after Howard County Delegation Chairs Sen. Clarence Lam and Del. Courtney Watson filed legislation that would change the county’s all-elected school board model to include two members recommended by the state delegation and appointed by the county executive.

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McCoy said she hopes to talk with Lam and Watson to understand what they are trying to accomplish with the legislation, while Chen said he is against the bill.

“I think it undermines all the voters,” he said. “Every resident has the right to make their decision and I think that’s the best way for us to keep the quality of education.”

Newberger trailed Chen by 954 votes heading into Friday, but the roughly 1,200 ballots counted on the final day of canvassing were not enough to make up the difference.

“I’m excited for Jacky and for Linfeng,” said Newberger, who finished first in the July primaries. “We all should feel good that two folks were elected who care so much about our kids and our schools and are going to really work hard and do the best they can for them.”

All five County Council incumbents — Democrats Liz Walsh of District 1, Opel Jones of District 2, Christiana Rigby of District 3, Deb Jung of District 4 and Republican David Yungmann of District 5 — were re-elected to their posts.

While the four Democrats won by wide margins, Yungmann beat Democrat Joan Pontius by 1,284 votes in the county’s rural western district.

The school board race proved a closer contest and capped months of campaigning on issues including attendance area adjustment, building maintenance and school safety.

On Thursday, the school board approved its redistricting plan for opening the county’s 13th high school in Jessup despite pushback from Elkridge families whose kids might be reassigned to the new school. McCoy and Chen echoed the concerns of community members who said the plan would fracture their neighborhoods and lead to dangerous commutes down Route 1.

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Candidates’ campaigns also centered on building repairs and security, given the school system faces more than $600 million in deferred maintenance costs and has dealt with several hoax phone threats this fall.

McCoy and Chen advocated for increasing funding for systemic renovations and air quality projects, including at Oakland Mills High School, which has not had a full HVAC replacement since the building opened in 1973.

“The capital budget, just like the school redistricting, [the board] was kicking the can down the road,” McCoy said in October.

On the issue of school safety, Chen pushed for expanding county police-employed school resource officers into middle schools, in addition to their current postings at the county’s 12 high schools and the Homewood Center. McCoy has said she wants to examine data and recent reforms to the SRO program before making a final decision.

McCoy and Chen emphasized they would bring unique perspectives as an educator and engineer, respectively, to the board to tackle these challenges.

“I know that a lot of people are looking for change to happen,” McCoy said after final results came in. “But I’m here to tell everyone that we all have to join the effort for change. There’s no one person who’s going to save anybody. It’s going to take all of us, willing to be uncomfortable, to do the uncomfortable things of making real change.”

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Outgoing at-large school board members Vicky Cutroneo and Chao Wu participated in the final meeting of their terms on Thursday. New school board and county council members will be sworn in Dec. 5.


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