Susan J. Cook and Sandra H. French differ on a few points, but the two school board candidates have staked out similar positions on major education issues.
Cook, 42, and French, 46, are competing for the school board seat left vacant when board member Anne L. Dodd decided not to seek a second term.
Board members serve six-year terms and are paid $6,000 a year. The chairman receives $6,800 a year.
Both candidates have expressed reservations about the State Board of Education's proposal to extend the school year by 20 days. Both favor educating students about sex and AIDS in the schools and both have offered qualified support for a seven-period day in county high schools.
Both candidates said they believe the Board of Education should actively support controls on development in the county, and Cook identified overcrowding as one of the most important issues in this year's school board race.
Both oppose increasing class sizes to cope with growth and both said they could not participate in the occasional private dinner meetings the school board has had with representatives of various organizations.
The two did differ on the recent early reinstatement of four soccer players who had been suspended from extracurricular activities for possession of alcohol on school grounds.
Cook supported a coach's policy that would have barred students from the team for the rest of the year; French said the students had to be reinstated because they had not received proper notice of the policy change.
The candidates have not attacked each other's positions on the issues, although in the final weeks of the campaign French criticized Cook's qualifications.
"Do you want a candidate who'll eventually do a good job two years from now or one who will be ready in January when the board goes into the budget process?" French asked during an interview.
French outlined her record of 10 years' experience as a PTA volunteer who was elected to county and state offices in the organization, and four years of attending school board meetings both as a representative of the PTA Council of Howard County and on her own.
Cook countered that she has been active in local PTAs. She was president of the Oakland Mills Middle School PTA from 1984 to 1986, president of Dasher Green Elementary School PTA from 1986 to 1988 and president of the Oakland Mills High School PTSA from 1988 to 1990.
"My opponent has been more visible," she said. "I have been working hard in local schools, which made me less visible but no less effective."
Cook has pointed out that she would be the only Columbia resident on the board. Retiring board member Anne L. Dodd, whose seat will be filled by the winning candidate, is the lone Columbia resident currently serving on the board.
Although school board members are elected at-large, representing the county as a whole, Cook said she sees a need for "a Columbia perspective represented on the board. Columbia is unique and has unique problems."
French, who lives in the Folly Quarter Road area of Ellicott City, countered that she has worked with PTA presidents from all areas of the county.
Each of the two candidates has appeared more in command of the situation at different times. Before the PTA Council of Howard County early this month, French seemed nervous and had difficulty framing the points she wanted to make, while Cook was poised and articulate.
Before the League of Women Voters last Saturday, French's answers to questions revealed more in-depth background knowledge.
Both women have relied more on personal approaches to voters and the messages of brochures than on newspaper or broadcast media advertising.
Cook had raised more money than French as of the Oct. 26 reporting date, although the school board race is low-budget compared to most of this year's races for County Council.
Cook raised $3,978 in contributions and loans since the start of her campaign. She has spent $3,037, most of it on brochures, postage and campaign posters, and said she wasn't interested in radio or television advertising.
"We think the more personal touch, door to door, is a better way to campaign for this position," she said.
French has raised $3,776 in contributions and loans and spent $3,600, most of it on brochures and postage. She said expense was the main reason she has not used media advertising.
Instead, she said, she spent the money on brochures "which we have walked miles and miles to place in people's doors or boxes."
French entered the campaign as the front runner, having wider name recognition because of her involvement in the county PTA council. She would not disclose her campaign strategy for the final week before the election, although she said she planned to continue campaigning until 8:05 on election night (the polls close at 8 p.m.).
Cook said her plans for the final week of the campaign are "to continue enjoying it. It's been a lot of fun."