There are few certainties in the races for seats on the Montgomery County Board of Education, as the count of ballots continues. But with the release of results from early voting and Tuesday’s Primary Election Day, some trends and likely frontrunners are beginning to take shape.

There were four seats up for grabs on the ballot this year, with 13 candidates in the running.

Local election officials had begun counting mail-in ballots Thursday, but no results had been reported as of mid-afternoon.

School board races are nonpartisan and the top two candidates in each race will move on to the general election in November.

Here are four takeaways from the school board races, based on an analysis of the results of early voting and Election Day tallies.

1. Silvestre only incumbent with clear lead

While it’s likely at least two of the three incumbents in the school board races will move on to the general election in November, Karla Silvestre (at-large) is the only one leading, and she’s doing it in a big way.

With early voting and Election Day totals reported, nearly 52% of votes were cast for Silvestre, who is seeking a second four-year term. The second-highest total was for Mike Erickson, who had about 20% of votes. Michael Fryar received about 16.5% of votes and Domenic Giandomenico had about 12%. Giandomenico posted on Twitter on Wednesday that “It looks like we’re going to fall short” and congratulated Silvestre for a “well-run campaign.”

Silvestre was first elected in 2018. That year, incumbent Jill Ortman-Fouse did not run for re-election.

In 2018, Silvestre came in second in the primary, securing about 28% of votes in a crowded eight-candidate race. Julie Reiley, a former attorney, came in first with 32% of votes.

Silvestre then won the general election in a tight race, besting Reiley about 51% to 48%.

The other incumbents, Brenda Wolff and Scott Joftus, were both in second in their respective races when early voting and Election Day ballots were counted.

Wolff was fewer than 200 votes (0.3%) behind the leader in District 5, former elementary school teacher Vaerie Coll. Both were well ahead of challenger Dawn Iannaco-Hahn, who had about 23% of votes. Iannaco-Hahn posted on Twitter on Wednesday thanking her supporters. She added: “It’s sad that MoCo just wants more of the same, but I did my best, was true to myself & didn’t let the haters get me down!”

In District 3, Joftus, who was appointed to fill the remainder of longtime board member Pat O’Neill’s term following her death in September, was in second place. He was behind Julie Yang, who had also applied to fill O’Neill’s seat but was not chosen. Yang had secured 60% of votes as of Thursday afternoon, compared to Joftus’ 21%.

2. Not much known about one leading candidate in at-large race

Many local education insiders were surprised about the second top vote-getter in the at-large race. Erickson of Derwood was in a comfortable second position as of Thursday afternoon, despite doing little campaigning after filing for the seat in the spring.

Erickson has not responded to interview requests from Bethesda Beat and did not respond to the Beat’s candidate questionnaire for its voter’s guide. He did not complete similar questionnaires from other publications like The Washington Post and MyMCMedia.

He doesn’t seem to have an active campaign website or materials, and his campaign finance reports filed with the State Board of Elections were all affidavits of limited contribution, meaning he raised and spent less than $1,000.

He did respond to a candidate questionnaire from the League of Women’s Voters, in which he said he is a Montgomery County Public Schools graduate with two fifth-grade children. In the questionnaire included in the league’s voters guide, he said he’s a local small business owner and criticizes the school board for spending “a lot of money, in my opinion, not very wisely.” He also says MCPS’ response to COVID-19 was “overkill” and he “would never vote for mandatory masking of children.”

The Montgomery County Education Association, known for its “apple ballot,” did not make an endorsement in the at-large race, which some advocates have criticized, saying it left many voters who may not be plugged in to local education issues without information about the candidates in the race. MCEA did make endorsements in the other races. The union endorsed Yang in District 3, Coll in District 5 and Grace Rivera-Oven in District 1.

3. Race for second spot in District 3 race closer than expected

Not only is Joftus, the incumbent, not leading in the District 3 race, his ticket to the general election isn’t secure as mail-in ballots begin to be counted. Joftus led challenger Marcus Alzona by about 2,000 votes after all early voting and Election Day ballots were counted. Joftus had about 21% of all votes cast and Alzona had 18.6%. With more than 33,000 mail-in ballots received as of Monday, there’s a lot of room for movement in the race.

Joftus posted on Twitter on Wednesday that he is “optimistic and eager to continue on to the general election and to connect with many more voters in the upcoming months.”

4. One member of slate appears positioned to move forward

In a relatively unusual move for Montgomery County school board elections, three candidates formed a slate, meaning they share campaign finances.

The slate included Iannaco-Hahn (District 5), Fryar (at-large) and Esther Wells (District 1).

Iannaco-Hahn was about 12,000 votes behind the two leading candidates in District 5 and is unlikely to regain ground and move to the general election.

Fryar was in third place in the at-large race as of Thursday afternoon, about 2,700 votes behind Erickson in second place. Fryar could close the gap as mail-in ballots are counted, though it’s unclear how results may change in the coming days.

Wells, however, sat comfortably in second place in the District 1 race as of Thursday afternoon, about 10,000 votes ahead of the third-place candidate, Alex Fahmy.

Wells is behind leading candidate Grace Rivera-Oven, who seems well positioned to move on to the general election with about 45% of votes as of Thursday.

The members of the slate including Wells, Fryar and Iannaco-Hahn all said they were drawn to run for the open seats due to MCPS’ response to COVID-19.

The slate faced some criticism late in the primary season when a community group known for fighting the concept of teaching “critical race theory” endorsed them.

The slate later distanced themselves from any insinuations they would remove curriculum that “includes anti-whiteness,” saying they “vehemently reject them.”

Wells has not run for elected office before and said in an interview in April that she does not hold any leadership positions in parent-teacher associations.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

Caitlynn Peetz

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com