Baltimore City residents have picked four candidates in the race for Board of School Commissioners to advance to the Nov. 8 general election. The final picks were finalized after weeks of ballot counting since the July 19 election.
Eight candidates ran for two open positions on what will be a 12-member city school board, all of which are at-large positions created after state legislation that requires a hybrid board of elected and appointed members.
The positions are nonpartisan so any registered voter, Democrat or Republican, could vote in the school board contests. In November, voters will choose two of the four candidates to be on the board.
Ashley Esposito, an employee for the Maryland Department of Human Services, maintained a lead throughout the race and took nearly 20% of the close to 133,000 votes cast. April Christina Curley, who works for the Last Mile Education Fund, won 16% percent, Kwame Kenyatta-Bey, a teacher, 14%, and Salimah Jasani, who works at an education consulting company, 13%
Jasani ran neck and neck with Michael Eugene Johnson for most of the race, but Johnson came 1,124 votes short of qualifying for the general election. Candidates Kevin W. Parson, Karen Yosafat Beleck and Cortly “C.D.” Witherspoon also fell short in the primary.
Johnson initially said in a statement he wants=ed to continue the fight for a spot on the board as a write-in candidate because of the “necessity, the urgency” and his commitment to the community. However, elections law doesn’t allow it.
“Our campaign is clear that our task is mighty, but we know that the mission is mightier,” he said.
In a July 27 tweet, Maryland Elections stated “a candidate who is defeated for the nomination for public office may not file a certificate of candidacy as a write-in candidate at the next succeeding general election as a candidate for any office.”
Johnson said Tuesday he was unaware that the rule existed, that it wasn’t a rule in the past and that he didn’t see the change on the State Board of Elections website.
“It is what it is,” he said, adding that he will continue to be vocal about school issues and hold officials accountable.
The Baltimore Teachers Union has endorsed Esposito and Jasani.
Esposito, 37, moved to the Violetville neighborhood in 2016 so that she could put her children in local public schools. Now the mother of a 2-year-old, she said she had been on the fence about running but is now both excited and shocked she won.
Jasani, 29, a former teacher who now advises school districts on strategic planning, said her goal is to get more government funding dedicated to teacher retention.
She said she was relieved to hear she will move forward in the race: “It was definitely one of those situations when we didn’t know what was going to happen,” Jasani said. “It’s good to know that we made it through and that we were able to have those conversations leading up to the election.”
Curley, Kenyatta-Bey and Johnson have all taught or had other roles in the city public school system. Curley taught for two years at Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy, while Kenyatta-Bey has decades of teaching experience, a good portion at Patterson High School.
Curley said “humble” is a word she used to describe being a winner of the primary. “Underdog” was another.
“I was out-fundraised, out-canvassed, and not one endorsement,” said Curley, who wants to create spaces where she can hear from the community and use data to make policy and budget decisions.
She pointed out she is only one of two candidates from the city, has teaching experience and is unafraid to do what needs to be done.
Kenyatta-Bey, also a Baltimore native, said he faced strong opponents but still believes his chances are good to win the general election.
“I have the backing of a lot of people like myself currently teaching in Baltimore City Schools,” he said.
He wants to make the school system one of the top districts in the country. One of the things that needs to be improved, he said, is communication. It’s what the public wants. He also said lack of vision is also an issue. Too many are playing “the blame game” and not bringing forward solutions. A “collective mind” is needed for change, he said.
“Sometimes the hardest thing is not opening a new door,” Kenyatta-Bey said. “It’s closing old ones.”
An earlier version of this story misstated the percentage of the vote Kwame Kenyatta-Bey received, the number of city school board members and the month of a tweet from Maryland Elections. This story has been updated.