Baltimore County school board has its winners, but its racial makeup is questioned

Published on: November 21, 2022 7:59 PM EST|Updated on: November 21, 2022 9:36 PM EST

A person fills out their ballot at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, in Baltimore, Md. on November 8, 2022.

Maggie Litz Domanowski, a parent whose conservative views stirred controversy during the fall campaign, and retired educator Brenda Hatcher-Savoy have won seats on the Baltimore County school board, final results show.

They join two teachers union-backed candidates, Robin Harvey in District 1 and Jane Lichter in District 2, as victors in the four contested races for the board, which has a mix of elected and appointed members.

Domanowski and Hatcher-Savoy were narrowly ahead on election night, but their contests were too close to call. Their wins were secured after the Baltimore County Board of Elections finished counting mail-in and provisional ballots late Friday.

The two candidates had previously noted their leads and claimed victory.

“It is my goal to work cooperatively with the board to prioritize strategies and create polices that will advance student outcomes,” said Hatcher-Savoy, who will represent District 4, in a Nov. 10 Facebook post. “Now the work begins.”

A candidate in District 3, Domanowski had also posted about her expected win on Facebook.

“I couldn’t be happier to put this part of the process behind me and focus on what really matters,” she wrote Nov. 11. “Advocating and helping our students, parents, educators, and communities in any and every way I can.”

Domanowski, an administrative assistant and mother of three students enrolled in the county schools, was one of three conservatives who ran against teachers union-endorsed candidates, but the only one who prevailed. Her opponent, retired educator Diane Young, fell short by 419 votes out of more than 37,000 cast.

Samay Singh Kindra, a law student who was also backed by the teachers union, lost to Hatcher-Savoy, 48% to 51%.

Chair Julie Henn in District 5, Vice Chair Rod McMillion in District 7 and PTA council member Christina Pumphrey in District 6 each faced no opposition in their respective bids.

School board races are nonpartisan, but the contests in Districts 1, 2 and 3 pitted Democrats with the backing of the teachers union and County Executive Johnny Olszewski against Republicans supported by conservative groups. The District 4 race, by comparison, was between two Democrats who are people of color.

While the campaigns of the right-leaning candidates drew the most attention, the contest in District 4 exposed tension over whether a majority-Black district would in fact be represented by a Black resident.

Last summer, one local leader criticized Kindra, an Indian American of the Sikh faith, for running in District 4, which is predominantly Black.

Danny Blount, a member of the county’s Democratic State Central Committee, spoke to Doni Glover of Bmore News last summer about Black representation among elected officials. Blount described Kindra as Olszewski’s “surrogate” and said that he had been “slammed down the throats of people in the fourth councilmanic district for the school board to represent our kids and our grandkids.”

He complained that Kindra had been “put on the central committee for diversity,” prompting Glover to question why Black people have to prove diversity given their historical treatment in America.

“We need people to run for office that look like us,” Blount responded.

Blount did not return a request for comment.

Community leaders have called for the school board to be more racially diverse to better reflect the student body, which is 60% students of color. One of the goals of the newly formed Education Justice Table is to advocate for more Black school board members, said Ryan Coleman, president of the Randallstown NAACP.

State Sen. Charles Sydnor III, who is Black and represents Baltimore County, said the current hybrid system of elected and appointed members was supposed to bring more diversity. Only three of the 12 board members, including the student member, are nonwhite.

“When you look at the redistricting case where we attempted to have two majority-minority districts at the county council, that affects school board races,” he said.

Last year, the county approved a redistricting plan that kept only one majority-minority district, District 4. Those who opposed the plan said it would dilute the representation of Black people by maintaining a white majority in the other districts, even though Black, Indigenous and other people of color make up 45% of the county electorate.

Six of seven council members are white. The county has never had more than one Black council member at a time, and has elected just two Black candidates in its history.

“When lines are drawn in such a way where you don’t even have a fair opportunity, that’s a problem,” Sydnor said.

Sydnor said Kindra obviously had a message that resonated with others, as well as the backing of elected officials such as Maryland Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and the District 10 Unity Team. He also noted that Hatcher-Savoy, who’d previously lost a bid for Democratic Central Committee, came from behind and won despite not having the support of teachers groups and the county executive.

Kindra didn’t address Blount’s comments but said the election results showed his message of equity, as well as his desire to give every child an opportunity after high school and provide a 21st century education, resonated with others. He said he’s grateful for all the supporters and volunteers who put faith and time into the campaign.

“I’m really proud of the campaign that we ran,” Kindra said in an interview. “We stuck by the principles the entire way through.”