Candidates in the closely watched Baltimore City and County school board races are eagerly awaiting the absentee ballot count this week, though some worry the races haven’t garnered enough interest from voters .
Eight candidates are running in Baltimore City’s first-ever school board race this year to fill two newly created seats. Baltimore’s 10 school board commissioners were previously appointed by the mayor until Maryland General Assembly voted in 2016 added two elected seats from 2022.
The decision was made with the support of the Baltimore Teachers Union, which lobbied for change and aligned the city with other state jurisdictions, such as Baltimore County, which removed fully appointed boards these last years. City school board members are elected at-large for a four-year term.
As of Tuesday, more than 21,000 city voters and 35,000 county voters had returned mail-in ballots, meaning the election is yet to be decided and the results could change drastically in the coming days.
Still, the favorites in both races were optimistic about their advantage with people who voted by mail. Only four candidates for the city’s school boards will appear on the ballot in November, when voters select just two names for the new seats.
Ashley Esposito, a Baltimore City school board candidate and community activist, was in the lead on Wednesday, garnering 19.3% of in-person votes. The town’s school mother said she wants people to have a say in the town’s education plans.
“For me, it’s a way to engage people regardless of political affiliation,” Esposito said. “Everyone cares about schools.”
Candidates Kwame Kenyatta-Bey, a longtime teacher at Patterson High School, and April Christina Curley, a former Google employee who filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the company, were close behind Esposito with 15.1% and 14, 8%, respectively.
Not far behind with 13%, education advocate Michael Eugene Johnson had a slight lead over former Digital Harbor High School special education teacher Salimah Jasani, who got 12.6% of the votes counted so far. The Baltimore Teachers Union had endorsed Esposito and Jasani before the primary election.
Candidates Kevin W. Parson, Karen Yosafat Beleck and Cortly “CD” Witherspoon also got 9%, 8.3% and 8% each.
At least three candidates – Jasani, Johnson and Parson – worried there was not enough awareness of the school board race in Baltimore City after speaking with voters at the polls on Tuesday.
Johnson said he did not blame voters. He felt other municipal and elected leaders could have done more to raise awareness.
“People at the polls want to be informed,” he said.
The Baltimore County School Board primary races were competitive in Districts One, Two, and Four. The top two candidates from each constituency will appear in the November ballot.
Ahead of the primary, the county saw campaigns to increase the number of conservative candidates for the school board, which has been embroiled in infighting since transitioning to a hybrid model of elected and appointed members in 2018. However, the races n failed to attract substantial numbers. candidates and few incumbents are running again.
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In District 1, candidate Robin Harvey, who currently works for the Baltimore County Commission for Women, held a significant lead Wednesday with 61.46% of the votes counted. Opponents Cory Koons and George Roycroft III hold 21.63% and 16.91% of the vote respectively so far.
Career educator Jane E. Lichter is a favorite in District 2 with 39.96% of the vote. Candidates Rebecca Chesner and LaShaune Stitt are neck and neck for second place in the general election. Chesner got 30.19% of the vote and Stitt 29.84%.
There are four candidates in District 4 vying for the general election. Brenda Hatcher-Savoy, another educator, leads with 35.83% of the vote. Samay Singh Kindra, J. Michael Collins and Othere M. Thornton garnered 24.98%, 24.23% and 14.96% of the votes each.
Children 1st, a conservative education PAC, has backed several school board candidates, including Koons, Chesner and Collins. PAC has ties to a parent group called the Baltimore County Parent and Student Coalition.
Harvey, Lichter and Kindra all received endorsements from County Executive Johnny Olszewski, a Democrat, as well as two unions representing educators in Baltimore County schools.
Kindra, a 24-year-old law student, said he was “looking forward” to mail-in ballots.
“We’re pretty confident that we’ll see a lot of mail-in ballots going in our favor,” Kindra said.