Bounds wins critics, loses supporters School board member isn't as conservative as opponents feared

'They brainwashed him'

Official has lost voice of independence, say some '94 proponents

November 25, 1996|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Stephen Bounds was elected to the Howard County school board in 1994 amid questions about his agenda. Critics feared he would bring a far-right religious philosophy to the board. Supporters embraced his "back-to-the-basics" campaign theme.

Two years later, the tables have turned.

The critics of 1994 are some of his biggest boosters today, describing Bounds as a thoughtful, forthright board member -- even when they disagree with his positions. They also praise the way he has stepped outside the traditional role of board member to educate parents about drug and alcohol abuse.

But some who voted for him say they're disappointed that the voice of independence he promised has been "co-opted" by the school system.

Next month, Jane Schuchardt, a retired teacher, joins the board under similar circumstances.

Schuchardt also stressed a "back-to-the-basics" message throughout her campaign and criticized board members for sometimes working for the school superintendent, instead of the other way around. Some of the whispered fears of religious conservatism that accompanied Bounds also follow Schuchardt to the board.

But if history proves to be a guide, the election of Schuchardt seems unlikely to translate into a growing "back-to-the-basics," conservative tide on the Howard school board.

Instead, as Bounds has shown during the past two years, election rhetoric often proves to be just that -- rhetoric.

This may be particularly so on the school board, which unlike such partisan bodies as the County Council doesn't break down into long-lasting voting blocs or divisions over petty personal conflicts. During the past two years, board votes have split in almost every possible combination.

Nevertheless, given their similarities, Bounds' first two years on the board may offer insight into what Schuchardt may bring to the board.

The other member elected with Bounds in 1994 -- Karen Campbell -- was returning to the board after a two-year hiatus and essentially had the experience, knowledge and public record of an incumbent.

Reviewing his campaign pledges from two years ago, Bounds, a 41-year-old Ellicott City lawyer who lives in Lisbon, easily is able to point to the impact of his tenure on the board so far -- even as he quickly emphasizes that few changes have occurred without the support of at least two other board members.

Action on school board

He promised to reject year-round education -- and a majority of the board did, moving up the decision five months to take what Bounds called the "specter of year-round education out of the picture."

Bounds also promised to stop "ungraded education." He first decided to run for the school board after learning of plans to change the elementary-school report cards by moving away from a firm marking system.

Changes to the elementary report cards have come before the board twice in the past two years, and both times board members have rejected the proposals as too complicated and full of education jargon -- with Bounds among the most outspoken critics.

Bounds pledged to control the cost of school construction. In the past couple of years, the system has created prototype designs of elementary and middle schools and begun hiring construction managers to oversee the building of schools -- moves intended to save money.

'Back to basics'

As for "back to basics," school officials have streamlined the curriculum for elementary and middle school teachers in the past two years to try to cut out areas that aren't essential to the content and skills students need to learn.

"Many of those things already were in the works before I even began campaigning," Bounds acknowledged. "But I hope that I've had some influence on their development and direction."

Howard schools Superintendent Michael E. Hickey agrees that Bounds has helped shape some of the new initiatives and predicts he will continue to do so.

"He is going to really leave his mark on the school system," Hickey said.

One area where Bounds single-handedly has had an impact is on the school board's approval of large purchases through competitive bids.

Through persistent questioning when prices differ substantially or only one company has made a bid, Bounds has spurred officials to place more information on purchasing sheets and look at ways to find more bidders.

"He keeps me on my toes," said Douglas Pindell, the school system's purchasing officer who often bears the brunt of Bounds' questions. "He's asking questions that need to be asked, and because of his questions I'm sometimes asking myself more questions about the process."

Such actions as a board member have led many school system observers -- including many who feared his election in 1994 -- to laud his work

Changing critics' minds

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