The field for Howard County Board of Education candidates in the three districts with primaries narrowed Tuesday night from nine to six candidates. The pairs will face each other in November.

The county’s next school board will help steer a school system in transition. In recent months, Howard County Public Schools faced difficult budget decisions, pressure to ban books, a stalemate with educators over pay, and a search for a new superintendent.

All district seat races are contested, except for District 3, where incumbent Jolene Mosley is running unopposed. In District 2, incumbent Antonia Watts is facing only one challenger, so no primary was held Tuesday.

The two at-large members, who are elected countywide, are not up for reelection until 2026. Students elected James Obasiolu, from Atholton High School, to the last seat on the eight-member board earlier this month.

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Here are the winners of the primary, as of Tuesday night:

District 1: Elkridge and portions of Ellicott City

Former school board candidate Meg Ricks and newcomer Andre Gao captured enough votes to move on to the November general election. Pravin Ponnuri will not advance.

Ricks, 43, earned about 46% of unofficial votes Tuesday. Unofficial votes includes early voting, mail-in and election day ballots, but does not include provisional ballots.

The Elkridge resident, who is a teacher’s assistant at East Columbia Preschool, ran unsuccessfully for an at-large Howard school board seat in 2022. Her platform includes retaining educators and fully meeting the requirements of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, the state’s multiyear plan to improve public schools, according to The Banner voter guide.

Signs outside the Roger Carter Community Center in Ellicott City on Tuesday, May 14, 2024.
Signs outside the Roger Carter Community Center in Ellicott City on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. (Jess Nocera/The Baltimore Banner)

Gao, 64, trailed behind Ricks but still managed to receive about 31% of votes. An Ellicott City resident and an economics research manager, Gao wants to see competitive teacher pay and wants the state and county provide “appropriate level of funding to schools,” according to the voter guide.

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District 4: Clarksville, Fulton and portions of Columbia

Incumbent Jen Mallo, 54, will face newcomer Julie Kaplan, 52, in November. Hiruy Hadgu did not make it through Tuesday’s primary.

Mallo, a Columbia resident, did not receive the most votes. Kaplan, who lives in Fulton and is a senior vice president of marketing and revenue operations, won about 48% of votes.

A former language analyst at the U.S. Department of Defense and teacher at the National Cryptologic School, Mallo received about 34% of votes. Mallo has served on the school board since 2018.

In response to The Banner’s voter guide question about the top priorities for the annual school budget, Kaplan said she wanted to fully fund the Blueprint legislation, increase safety and maintain academic excellence. Mallo’s top priorities were student safety, academic achievement, and staff recruitment and retention.

District 5: Dayton, Lisbon, Highland, Woodbine

Trent Kittleman, a former state delegate, and Andrea Chamblee, a gun safety activist, will have until the November election to convince voters why they should be elected to the District 5 school board seat. Catherine Carter, a former public school teacher, did not garner enough votes to advance out of the primary.

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Kittleman, 79, of West Friendship, received about 47% of votes. Kittleman was first elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 2014 and served in that role until January 2023.

Chamblee, who lives in District 5, secured about 29% of votes Tuesday, enough to move her along to the November general election. A retired regulatory attorney for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration who is now an adjunct professor at George Washington University, this is Chamblee’s first time running for office.

When it comes to the hot-button issue of restrictions on school library books, Kittleman and Chamblee disagree on how to tackle it. Chamblee does not support more restrictions on books, while Kittleman has shown support for Moms for Liberty — a conservative parents group that has challenged books in local schools.