Schuchardt win pegged to message, voter blocs Parochial school parents, public teachers backed her

November 07, 1996|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

How did Jane Schuchardt beat a candidate with more money, more endorsements, more political connections and more name recognition in the race for Howard County school board?

Campaign observers and the candidates themselves say she succeeded by relying on a simple message and gaining strong support from two disparate groups of voters -- Howard teachers and parents who send their children to area parochial schools.

Schuchardt, a retired Howard teacher, led community activist Francine Wishnick by almost 3,800 votes Tuesday night, 52 percent to 47 percent. About 5,500 absentee ballots remain to be counted today and next week, but neither candidate expects the outcome to change.

Wishnick had been favored

Heading into the fall campaign, most observers considered Wish-nick the favorite to win the school board seat being vacated by Susan Cook.

Wishnick was the top vote-getter in last winter's five-candidate primary and had held elected positions with the Oakland Mills Village Board and Columbia Council.

She also received about three times as much money from donors, who included a former county executive and some state and local politicians.

But in her campaign, Schuchardt kept returning to the simple message that the board needs a lifelong Howard educator who is familiar with how the schools operate. She stressed a "back to the basics" approach in the elementary grades, saying they need stronger emphasis on reading, writing and mathematics.

"Howard County wanted an educator on the board -- it was a real simple explanation," said Joan Lancos, a Schuchardt neighbor, strong supporter and county planning board member. "I really believe that was the basic explanation."

A Wishnick supporter, who asked not to be identified because of fear of hurting her friendship with Wishnick, agreed: "Jane had a simple message and she just kept hitting it. Fran sometimes lost her message because she got too caught up in the details."

Toward the end of the campaign, Schuchardt also appeared to capture strong support from county teachers because she made a much stronger commitment than Wishnick to giving them salary increases.

Meanwhile, Wishnick took a much stronger stand than Schuchardt in pushing for stricter teacher accountability, changing tenure laws and tying teacher performance evaluations student achievement -- positions generally unpopular with teachers.

No endorsement by union

The Howard County Education Association did not make an endorsement in the race and did not make an effort to support either candidate, union President Karen Dunlop said yesterday.

Nevertheless, some teachers and other campaign observers say it appeared that many teachers strongly supported Schuchardt. More than half of the county's 2,800 teachers live in Howard.

"I think certain factors came into play, and there appeared to be bloc voting by teachers concerned about my beliefs," Wishnick said.

Wishnick said she also believes she was hurt in the final weeks by her answers to a written survey distributed by parents of children who attend local parochial schools.

The Howard schools provided public bus transportation for 586 private school pupils last year, as required by state law.

The parochial school parents say there was no organized effort to get out the vote for either candidate, but the parents also noted yesterday that Schuchardt came across on the survey as a stronger supporter of continuing this free busing.

Pub Date: 11/07/96

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