Most people know who they’re voting for in the presidential election, if they haven’t voted already.
But a race not always on the radar of voters is one that’s getting a lot of attention in Howard County. Three of the seven Howard County Board of Education seats are up for grabs in next week’s election.
The outcome of this election could potentially change the make-up of the seven-member Board of Education in the county.
It’s a board that some say, along with the superintendent, failed to be transparent after mold was discovered in several schools, didn't follow protocol when awarding vendor contracts according to a recent audit, and didn't consider community feedback when renewing the four-year contract for the county schools superintendent.
“What happened was over time, I noticed that those voices, the parents, the students, and the educators were not being heard and were being pushed out of the decision-making process,” said Howard County Board of Education candidate Christina Delmont-Small.
The vote in February to renew Dr. Renee Foose's contract was 5-2. The seats of the two board members who opposed are not up for re-election. Of the five who voted to renew, three of those seats are on the ballot this year and two incumbents lost in the primary.
“To have the community be as aware of the problem that they would vote out two incumbents, because that's not something that's too typical, I think says a lot about the activism in the county,” Howard County Board of Education candidate Robert Miller said.
Now there are five challengers and one incumbent vying for the three open seats. A number of their platforms center on transparency and inviting community input.
“We have to work together and we have to be collaborative. I want a change in the culture, I want the Board of Education to be the boss of the superintendent and not the other way around,” Board of Education candidate Vicky Cutroneo said.
“A lot of people feel that walls have been put up and things are being hidden and by being more transparent, inviting everyone's input including teachers, we need to trust our educators to be part of the process and not block them out,” Miller said.
They'd also like more transparency in how the board divvies its $800 million budget.
“I keep hearing that we're not really working very well with our county council who have control of our budget or the state legislature who also have control of our budget and it seems like we should be working closer with the folks who are making decisions about how much money we have to put in the classroom to meet the needs of our children in this county,” BOE candidate Mavis Ellis said.
“There's and old saying of follow the money. We cannot fund programs and set priorities without putting money behind them. We, in Howard County, need to know truly how much it spends, how much it costs us to run the county school system, we don't know that right now,” Delmont-Small said.
“I really want to see some more cost cutting at central office and because the class sizes have gone up again I think that central office should be feeling some of that pain as well,” BOE candidate Kirsten Coombs said.
Janet Siddiqui is the last incumbent still standing. She voted to renew Dr. Foose's contract, and acknowledges there could've been more communication in addressing the mold issue.
“I think there was breakdown of communication at all levels. At the school level, the central office level, and at the board level. No doubt about it and that's what areas we can definitely improve in and I'd love to work with the community to try and improve the communication issues,” Siddiqui said.
Siddiqui, who has served on the Board since 2007, added that this election has been far different from ones in the past.
“This time it seems very political and very contentious and there's a lot of issues - lies, misrepresentations through social media and I've been doing my best to try and address that but it's been very different this time,” she said.
Community activist Danny Mackey said it's different now because there was a breakdown of trust and they're looking for a board that can restore it.
“For the first time in a long time, it's no longer just where candidates stand on issues it's what basic values you would like to assume you share with individuals. What candidates highlight those, so accountability, transparency, these are basic values held by the people of Howard County,” Mackey said.
Mackey is encouraging other Howard County voters to do their homework before deciding who to elect to the Board of Education next Tuesday.
“No other election affects you day-to-day as the Board of Education as a taxpayer whether you have kids in the school system or not. So, no more eeny, meeny, miny, moe, get to know the candidates and the issues and be an informed voter,” Cutroneo said.
Board members elected this month will serve a four-year term. Four more seats will be up for election in 2018.