This guide was updated on May 4 to include the submission by Andre Gao.

As a service to our readers, The Business Monthly has asked candidates running for office in the Board of Education races in our coverage area to provide responses to a short questionnaire. Their responses follow unedited.

Maryland’s primary election day is May 14. Early voting runs from May 2 through May 9.

Questions for Board of Education candidates:

1. How does your experience prepare you for this office?

2. If elected, what are the top priorities you would pursue during your term? 

3. Do the unfunded mandates in the Blueprint leave any options for local control in school funding? What would you recommend?

4. Do you think there is an urgent need to address the books available to students in media centers? What changes would you be in favor of?

5. Do you support the school system’s approach to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion of all students and their families in our schools? What changes would you be in favor of?

Councilmanic District 1

Andre Gao: Campaign website facebook.com/andreforHCboe

1. How does your experience prepare you for this office?

My 30+ years experience in financial industry and nearly 20 years as the manager of Ph Ds, MBAs, and college graduates prepared me to address the school budget issue and school management issue.

2. If elected, what are the top priorities you would pursue during your term?

Manage the operating budget well, use the money wisely, have forward looking planning and budgeting to avoid short falls. Renovate aging schools urgently so the teachers and students can teach and learn in safe and healthy schools. Have the right curriculum, recruit and retain the best teachers, and provide the education for the future of all students 

3. Do the unfunded mandates in the Blueprint leave any options for local control in school funding? What would you recommend?

The Blueprint did make our budget difficult because we do not have enough flexibility on the scale and timing on implementing it. 

4. Do you think there is an urgent need to address the books available to students in media centers? What changes would you be in favor of?

This is not urgent compared my top priorities. However, I do believe the books available to students in media centers should server the purpose of providing the best education for the future of all students.

5. Do you support the school system’s approach to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion of all students and their families in our schools? What changes would you be in favor of?

DEI is a good idea, and it will help us if it is implemented well. I believe there are things we can improve the work of DEI.

Pravin Ponnuri: No response. Campaign website: www.pravinponnuri.com and https://www. facebook.com/PravinPonnuriBOE

Meg Ricks: Campaign website: www.megricksforboe.com and https://www.facebook.com/megricksforboe

1. How does your experience prepare you for this office?

My background in the preschool classroom and as a community leader, education advocate, and HCPSS parent have uniquely qualified me to serve on the Board. As a recipient of Free and Reduced Meals (FARMs) and other programs for families in poverty as a child, I personally experienced the importance and power of public education to change lives. Serving others in my community has been a life-long pursuit. My time on the Operating Budget Review Committee (OBRC) and many years of PTA leadership deepened my understanding of the fiscal and other challenges we face. I have followed and participated in the work of the Board for over 14 years and am ready to bring my experience, creative problem solving, consensus building, and passion for education to this role. Those familiar with my leadership have described me as fair, calm, and level-headed. Serving as one of the co-chairs of this year’s OBRC, I’ve had an opportunity to put into practice calm leadership and consensus building in what can sometimes be a fractious group because of its size, passion, and diversity of opinions, not to mention the difficulty of this year’s budget. I am ready to bring these needed skills to the Board.  

2. If elected, what are the top priorities you would pursue during your term? 

Mental health

Special Education services and training

Addressing gaps

Better outreach and engagement

More long-term planning for both the operating and capital budgets

More dedicated funding for our schools

3. Do the unfunded mandates in the Blueprint leave any options for local control in school funding? What would you recommend?

My hope is that some improvements to the rollout and funding structure can be made to assist Howard County and the other local jurisdictions in Maryland to be able to achieve the goals of Blueprint without having to slash the budget for existing programs. The intent was to improve education in Maryland and not to cut it.  I really want to see more help with pre-k expansion from the state so that we do not end up driving small private providers out of business and end up actually having less spots available for our youngest learners. The HCPSS budget is in a bad place this year because of inflation, the decrease in maintenance of effort funding required of our county due to enrollment decreases since COVID, and past use of fund balance for recurring expenses. My hope is that budget cuts can avoid items that directly impact the classroom and that we can continue to work with our funding partners to increase funding for our schools going forward.  

4. Do you think there is an urgent need to address the books available to students in media centers? What changes would you be in favor of?

I support parents’ right to restrict what their own children read, but no single person or group gets to dictate what every student has access to. I trust our media specialists to offer age appropriate materials in our school libraries. There is a process in place to get community feedback on all materials and to request re-evaluation, if there are concerns. To prepare children for the future, we need to teach them both the good and the bad of our history. We want our students to learn important, age-appropriate lessons about the role of race and racism in the shaping of America because it’s the best way to ensure the next generation doesn’t repeat the mistakes of our past. LGBTQ+ students should have the same freedom to study in a supportive learning environment as any other student, despite the attempts of some politicians to demonize them and to stoke fear for political gain.  

5. Do you support the school system’s approach to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion of all students and their families in our schools? What changes would you be in favor of?

I think that the policies of the HCPSS are good in recognizing the value of and need to address diversity, equity, and inclusion. The question is always going to be how are we doing in each school building and office at actually removing barriers, ensuring opportunities for success for all, and hearing all voices- not just the loudest ones. Nurturing and sustaining a culture of inclusivity that celebrates the diversity of our community and is not afraid to address bias is crucial to being a great school system for all. We need diversity at all levels and diverse perspectives in decision making and leadership. 

Councilmanic District 2

Larry Doyle: No response. Campaign website: https://www.linkedin.com/larryowilkinsdoyle

Antonia Watts (Incumbent): No response. Campaign website: www.antoniawatts.com and https://www.facebook.com/watts4education

Councilmanic District 3

Jolene Mosley (Incumbent): No response. No campaign website listed.

Councilmanic District 4

Hiruy Hadgu: No response. No campaign website listed.

Julie Kaplan: No campaign website listed.

1. How does your experience prepare you for this office?

My background as an executive, where I honed skills in scrutinizing and optimizing tight budgets, directly informs my preparedness for the Howard County Board of Education. I know how to make the most out of every dollar and plan effectively, skills that are key for guiding our schools’ budgets. Combined with my 15 years of being a parent in the Howard County Public Schools, I bring a practical understanding of what our schools and students need. I’m ready to use my experience from the business world and as a parent to ensure that every decision made is in the best interest of our students’ future, aligned with my commitment to a transparent, accountable school system.

2. If elected, what are the top priorities you would pursue during your term?

If elected, my three top priorities would be improving school safety, enhancing the quality of education, and ensuring financial accountability. I aim to work closely with the board to bring more careful thought and planning into every decision we make. This approach is especially important to avoid repeating past mistakes, such as the great bus debacle of 2023-2024. By focusing on these priorities, I’ll push for decisions that are well-considered, based on solid evidence, and designed to meet our students’ needs without unnecessary disruptions to their education or safety.

3. Do the unfunded mandates in the Blueprint leave any options for local control in school funding? What would you recommend?

The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future presents both opportunities and challenges for HCPSS. To navigate this, I recommend a balanced approach where we prioritize spending on initiatives that directly impact classroom learning and teacher support. Local control can be exercised through careful fiscal planning, ensuring investments yield tangible improvements in student achievement. Collaborating with stakeholders to identify innovative, cost-effective strategies will be crucial in managing these mandates while maintaining high educational standards.

4. Do you think there is an urgent need to address the books available to students in media centers? What changes would you be in favor of?

The question of updating the books and resources in our media centers is addressed by Policy 8040, which mandates regular revaluation of resources to ensure they are current and suitable for our students. This policy ensures that the materials available in our schools are both age-appropriate and reflect the latest information and cultural make-up of our students. Given this thorough and ongoing review process, I see no urgent need to change the current policy.

5. Do you support the school system’s approach to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion of all students and their families in our schools? What changes would you be in favor of?

I support the push towards improving Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion within HCPSS, yet it’s clear we haven’t made enough progress. True leadership in equity means moving past just talk, to actions that deliver significant, impactful changes. This involves a deep dive into our existing policies and practices, identifying where they fall short, and taking concrete steps to address these gaps. My goal is to foster an educational setting that fully embraces and supports the diverse backgrounds and abilities of all our students. The journey towards a truly inclusive and equitable environment is ongoing, and frankly, we have much more work to do. I am dedicated to being a part of this crucial effort, ensuring that every step we take is meaningful and brings us closer to the inclusive, supportive community we aspire to be.

Jennifer Mallo (Incumbent): Campaign website: votejenmallo.com and www.facebook.com/jenmallo4boe/

1. How does your experience prepare you for this office?

I am unique among the candidates with six years on the Board and decades of education advocacy, policy work, work in early childhood and adult education. I am the only candidate in my district who will not need years of “on the job training” to come up to speed. As a Education policy expert, I am able to identify problems and implement solutions to create better policies for students. During my tenure, we revised nearly all of HCPSS’ policies, implemented the first-ever equity policy, and enacted a student-centered dress code. As a problem solver and consensus builder, I brought in air quality experts and infectious disease specialists to advise us during the pandemic, resulting in air filters for every classroom, prioritized vaccine access, and rapid purchase of Chromebooks for students during virtual instruction. As an economist and analyst, I passed record-high, financially-sound budgets funded in collaboration with our elected officials as well as eliminated the nearly $50 million health fund deficit two years ahead of schedule. As Board Chair, I moved to ensure that our contracts were not our problems, initiating changes that all Board-approved contracts so they contain appropriate damages provisions as well as newly instituted financial controls. 

2. If elected, what are the top priorities you would pursue during your term? . 

Addressing gaps suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic–whether it is academic gaps that resulted from an inability to learn fundamentals during virtual instruction, untended mental health needs, attendance behavior, or the lack of social interaction, many of our students are still suffering from the impacts of the pandemic. These students do not have time to wait and it must be addressed now.

Transportation–the roll-out of the modernization of our transportation delivery model was a colossal failure. In the past we have long time local providers that bid on as little as one and upwards of fifty routes, resulting in more than 475 individual contracts managed by a very small HCPSS staff. The system had reached the end of its scalability limits. The transportation office took on too many concurrent changes to successfully implement them, to include moving to a six zone system with large-scale vendors covering 50 or more routes per zone contract, modernizing routing software, moving school start times, expanding coverage for a new high school, and expanding walk zones to address driver and bus shortages. During my next term, I want to fix our broken transportation system.

3. Do the unfunded mandates in the Blueprint leave any options for local control in school funding? What would you recommend?

As a member of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education (MABE) Blueprint ad hoc committee and the County Executive’s Blueprint workgroup–I can confirm there is still a great deal of local control in school funding. I routinely meet with our Howard County delegation members, County Council, and County Executive to discuss funding, budgeting, and Blueprint implementation. I am the only candidate in District 4 that has this level of background, experience,advocacy, and collaboration with our funders. While the Blueprint directs that we raise teachers salaries to a professional-level commensurate with educational attainment, it does not control who we hire, how we structure our workforce, and how we retain high quality educators. The Blueprint directs the expansion of PreK, yet how we transition from half day to full day and how we implement PreK is still within local control. Further, the commitments of the Board of Education toward critical objectives like reading by third grade using the science of reading, being on track in middle school to meet or exceed state standards of Algebra II and being on track to be career or college ready by 9th grade, all involve funding decisions made at the local level for education priorities.

4. Do you think there is an urgent need to address the books available to students in media centers? What changes would you be in favor of?

HCPSS has a rigorous process for review of library materials utilizing subject matter experts, librarians, teachers, and trusted literary providers, as well as  procedures and processes in place when there are book challenges. No, there is not an urgent need to address the books available to students and ban books. This misplaced notion is being bred out of a culture of fear and outrage with the intent to erase the LGBTQ+ community in Howard County, to minimize the realities of racism, and to reduce our student’s individual liberties. Literature and art are meant to expand our understanding of the world and underlie how we see the human condition. Sometimes books challenge our sensibilities and sensitivities–whether it be the horrors of war, genocide, and extermination in The Diary of Anne Frank,the homosexual relationship in the World War II novel, The Thin Red Line, the burning of books in Farenheit 451, or the inhuman cruelty in The Lord of Flies. It is in these books that children and adults experience windows into others’ lives and mirrors of their own. These windows and mirrors allow students to be seen and to know they are not alone in their struggles and successes.

5. Do you support the school system’s approach to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion of all students and their families in our schools? What changes would you be in favor of?

I prize HCPSS placing importance and value on diversity, equity, and inclusion. We have a very diverse community–it should be celebrated, not diminished. Equity is an important lens for our schools. We have many programs that provide resources and supports to students in equitable ways. Some examples are: the Free and Reduced Meals program, which provides meals to children coming from low income families, educational supports specific to a child’s needs (special education), tutoring for students behind in reading and math using federal ESSER dollars, Black Student Achievement Program Liaisons, Hispanic Achievement Liaisons, International Liaisons, Gifted and Talented courses for accelerated students, Counselors, Psychologists, Social Workers, mental health professionals–are all critical and equitable. I support their continuation. Students and staff who are engaged and feel valued are likely to be more effective and successful–this is the essential belief of inclusion. Whether it is students with special education needs, LGBTQ+ students and staff, students of color, unhoused students, or students recently moving to Howard County from Bangalore, Beijing, or Baltimore– being inclusive is the only path to success. Embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion will move our school system forward and will prepare our students for life after graduation in Howard County. 

Councilmanic District 5

Catherine Carter: No response. Campaign website: carter4schoolboard.com and https://www.facebook.com/carter4edu

Andrea Chamblee: Campaign website: Andreachamblee.com

1. How does your experience prepare you for this office?

I am deeply passionate about public service and public safety. My entire adult life has been devoted to both. About 20 years ago when I began teaching graduate courses, I discovered I had a passion for teaching too, so I never stopped. Howard County is my home town and it has given a lot to me over the years. I would be so proud and honored to give back as a member of the HCPSS Board of Education — but more importantly, I have skills that this board needs. I have professional expertise in the areas of contract scrutiny and vendor accountability, and I have been trained to anticipate and consider the potential consequences of making changes to complex systems. My entire career with the FDA I balanced the priorities of the government, the American consumer, and a variety of pharmaceutical and medical vendors. I have extensive experience with legislation and policy that will translate well to the board of education. Families know that they can trust me to prioritize safety in all the forms it takes. And educators know that I value and support them for the unsung heroes that they are. 

2. If elected, what are the top priorities you would pursue during your term?

I am the Safety Candidate. All of my priories stem from my commitment to making our schools inclusive learning environments where well-being isn’t pushed to the back burner. Capital improvements, deferred maintenance, new construction and our dependence on portables all need to be addressed urgently. Funding those projects on an accelerated timeline will require assistance from the state, which I will advocate for. I will also work with our county and state officials to explore innovative funding formulas and determine if any are appropriate for HCPSS. On the operating side, classrooms come first. Class sizes need to be smaller, students and teachers need adequate resources, advanced learners need challenging opportunities and students who need more support deserve to get it. Every building needs more counselors, special educators, and paraprofessionals. And we must pay staff well above mandatory minimums if we hope to overcome the widespread teacher shortage. 

3. Do the unfunded mandates in the Blueprint leave any options for local control in school funding? What would you recommend?

Yes, there is still a tremendous amount of local control. HCPSS offers many programs and services that are not required by MSDE or written into the Blueprint. The county and HCPSS both need to comb through the granular details of their finances and find areas where money can be saved without harming the system. Cutting hundreds of teachers and increasing class sizes may be the most efficient way to reduce costs but it’s the easy way out. community. There was an opportunity this year to make cuts in areas the superintendent didn’t recommend. When I am on the board, I will expect HCPSS management to comb through each department and identify all the smaller expenses that we could do without. (Why does HCPSS pay for Zoom, MS Teams, and Swagit Live-streaming when we’ve already invested into the Google Meets ecosystem?) Trimming fat one sliver at a time is harder and requires a concerted effort, but our school communities deserve leaders who will do exactly that. We have to do more strategic, long term planning and we have to cut costs more surgically.

4. Do you think there is an urgent need to address the books available to students in media centers? What changes would you be in favor of?

I believe there is an urgent need to stand up for our media specialists and dispel the myth that elementary school libraries contain pornography. HCPSS has a Resource Reevaluation Committee composed of students, teachers, parents and community members. There is a process that allows for challenges and reevaluations and I would like to see that robust process remain in place. But the book banning campaigns we’re seeing now are gratuitous and almost always target books that depict or represent the experiences of marginalized communities. Some call that ‘parental rights’ but I call it Bigotry. Those who seek to restrict learning and suppress differences should not be allowed to dictate what all students can read.  

5. Do you support the school system’s approach to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion of all students and their families in our schools? What changes would you be in favor of?

I support DEI initiatives that are real and HCPSS is not quite there. To be clear, our policies absolutely reflect the goals of meaningful DEI work, but implementation is lacking. And our small DEI department is not to blame. Real DEI work requires systemwide buy-in. Everyone in every building has to accept that no one is immune to unconscious bias. HCPSS needs a full Equity Audit, similar to the ones some of our neighboring districts have undergone. We have students in every school who don’t even receive the dignity of having their names pronounced correctly. We have leadership who feel it’s appropriate to prescribe “equity” to communities they’ve never interacted with. When I’m on the board of education, I look forward to championing a community-centered approach to DEI that is guided by those who are the most impacted.

Trent Kittleman: Campaign website: www.trentkittleman.com and https://www.facebook.com/trent.kittleman.1

1. How does your experience prepare you for this office?

As a Maryland State Delegate, I spent eight years working successfully with legislators across the aisle; I have supported “Burden of Proof” legislation to help families trying to get fair treatment for their special education children and opposed legislation that has weakened local control.  My familiarity with the legislative process will be valuable to my work on the Board.  As CEO of the MdTA, I was responsible for a $3.4 million operating budget a $6 billion six-year capital budget.  I also created a stakeholder committee that got the bay Bridge lanes re-laminated before the summertime travel rush.  Similarly, as Deputy Secretary of Transportation, I created and guided a stakeholder committee that raised the paratransit on-time pickup from 75% to over 90% and participated in the ‘Principles plus one” group that successfully negotiated approval of the ICC (Rt. 200).  As a lawyer, I’ve negotiated innumerable contracts and am very familiar with what should be in them! In addition to having five grandkids in HCPSS, I have been participating in the fifth-grade Simulated Congressional Hearings program for the last 13 years, judging at least six schools a year; this year I’ve chosen to judge at schools in all parts of the county.

2. If elected, what are the top priorities you would pursue during your term? 

The first priority of the Bard of Education must be a detailed and thorough analysis of the operating budget to see if it can be redesigned in any way to make it more efficient and effective.  Next, I would make every effort to get all of the “new” walkers back on buses and reduce the maximum walk distance to one mile. Third, I would vigorously pursue studying how best to de4sign a Public Private Partnership looking to mirror Prince George’s County’s successful results of getting six new schools constructed in just three years.

3. Do the unfunded mandates in the Blueprint leave any options for local control in school funding? What would you recommend?

Your question has identified my primary concern with the Blueprint. It is the Maryland Legislature’s most successful effort to wrest control of the public schools from the local Boards of Education – which I believe to be a big mistake. There is no way a state that includes the Jurisdictions of Baltimore City and Howard County can impose a one-size fits all plan. In order to achieve results, I believe the state is going to have to work with the Locals to amend some of the time frames, and programs. For example, the Early Childhood Education pillar is based upon the assumption that at least 50% of the need will be filled by private entities, but COVID and other factors have shut the doors of too many of these small businesses to achieve that goal. One option that I think is necessary is to modify the requirement that local boards implement the Blueprint programs exactly as written. Some local Boards have very similar programs that are performing well. Rather than require the locals to expend time and money tearing down and replacing their program, the state could offer a waiver upon judging the local program adequate.

4. Do you think there is an urgent need to address the books available to students in media centers? What changes would you be in favor of?

The need is urgent in the opinion of many parents who object to what they consider sexually explicit material, both written and graphic, that interferes with the family’s culture, religion, or moral code. Howard County Public libraries don’t carry Playboy or Penthouse due to their sexual photos and content. Some of the books parents object to are more sexually explicit than either of those magazines. I support parents’ right to protect their children from what they reasonably consider pornography. The Supreme Court noted “obscenity is not determined by a national standard,” but rather  by community standards that vary from one geographical location to another. In Howard County, there are broad differences among our many communities. Applying a one-size-fits-all approach to decisions involving controversial topics invariably penalizes some to accommodate others. I favor the right of “opt out” for books and materials used in classrooms, and I support funding for low-income families to enable them, when necessary, to provide an alternate education for their children—just as the higher income families of more than 3,000 students did during COVID, removing their children from the HCPSS in favor of alternatives that were open.

5. Do you support the school system’s approach to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion of all students and their families in our schools? What changes would you be in favor of?

I absolutely believe that everyone in the schools, all teachers, staff, and students, should value diversity and act accordingly and ensure than no children are excluded from any activity based on immutable characteristics. The best way to eliminate most antisemitism, anti-black, anti-gay, anti LGBTQ+, etc. bigotry is for the school to consistently impose quick and certain disciplinary measures that actually work to dissuade and prevent students from engaging and/or reengaging in such behavior. The current system provides preferential treatment for certain groups based on the belief that by doing so, it will make other groups more aware of and accepting of their differences. But children realize the unfairness inherent in “picking favorites,” and rather than promoting acceptance, this practice often produces the opposite result.