The three candidates vying for two seats on the Howard County Board of Education have raised a combined $24,649.20 to get their message out during their nearly yearlong campaigns.
First-time campaigner Diane Mikulis was the winner in the money race, raising $11,321.20 in contributions, according to the latest campaign finance report filed Friday. Mary Kay Sigaty garnered $9,208, followed by another first-timer Frank Aquino, who pulled in $4,120.
The candidates said soliciting for money was uncomfortable - they collected mostly from family, friends and neighbors - but a necessary part of running a countywide campaign and getting their names and views out to the voters.
They also held a few fund-raisers; in one instance, Sigaty raised $2,100 during a $50-a-ticket event in July.
"What we're getting is spent directly on getting the message out," said Sigaty, a former County Council candidate who received the most votes in the March primary. "For County Council, we elect by district. I was focusing all my attention in the 4th District. The school board is across the county."
Mikulis, a parent of three children in the school system, said it costs money to reach every corner of the county - be it buying signs, printing literature or placing advertisements.
"You don't know what makes people vote," she said. "People vote for various reasons, so you have to try out everything."
Aquino, an Ellicott City lawyer who has served on school committees and PTA councils, acknowledged that he did not hold as many fund-raisers as he could have.
He put it into perspective: "By the time it's all said and done, we'll probably have raised about $25,000 among the three candidates for the school board. It's more than the stipend both winning candidates will get for one year of service."
School board members receive $12,000 annually.
In addition to contributions, which include money and in-kind donations (services, products), each of the candidates also made personal loans to their campaigns. As of the last required filing date Friday, Mikulis was repaid her $1,000 loan through campaign contributions.
Sigaty lent herself $2,000 and Aquino $1,500, but neither has recouped the money.
After raising funds, the candidates spent the money on campaign paraphernalia. The candidates spent a combined $21,623.74 on everything from signs to pamphlets to media advertisements to photos to office equipment.
But they differed slightly on where they put their money.
Of the $8,536.33 in expenses, Sigaty spent $5,143.06 on printing and buying campaign ma- terials, including yard signs, personalized pencils, flyers and T-shirts. She also spent $171.24 for wine for the campaign's wine- and-cheese fund-raiser in July.
Mikulis spent $8,671.54, mostly on campaign signs and literature, including $291.58 for balloons and helium. She also bought candy ($50.32) for the Dayton Daze parade in October.
Aquino spent $4,415.87 to buy sign posts, T-shirts and to mail campaign material. He spent the most money ($1,362.45) of the three candidates to buy advertisements in several newspapers.
"You're always looking to get your name out; you need signs," Aquino said. "In my case, I decided newspaper ads were the better way to go because of circulation."
During the last school board election, in 2002, Courtney Watson, the board chairman, raised more than $13,000 to win her seat. Her opponent was Barry Tevelow.
With less than a week before Tuesday's election, the three candidates said they will continue to campaign - hitting the pavement, knocking on doors and waving their signs on Howard County streets.
After attending nearly a dozen community forums since the March primary, the candidates are expected to take part in their last one, at 7 o'clock tonight at Murray Hill Middle School in Laurel. The forum is sponsored by the North Laurel Civic Association.
"Certainly in the last month, I probably spent, outside of work, most of my waking hours involved in this in some way or another - be it research, responding to e-mails, calling people and then out on the street walking and waving at traffic," Sigaty said.