7 vying for seats on school board Primary election tomorrow to narrow the field to four

Two spots available

New board will choose successor to Hickey for superintendent

September 14, 1998|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

Seven candidates competing for two Howard County school board seats will face off in tomorrow's nonpartisan primary election, which will narrow the field to four.

The four top vote-getters will advance from the primary to the Nov. 3 general election. Along with one incumbent -- former English teacher Sandra H. French -- the diverse group includes six others who have raised issues ranging from student discipline to class sizes to the responsiveness of education officials.

The six are transportation manager Glenn Amato; lawyer Lee S. Ashmore; private school teacher Alfreda Gill; accountant Jerry D. Johnston; former substitute teacher Laura Waters; and engineer Arthur Neal Willoughby.

Johnston is no relation to board member Linda Johnston, who is not running for re-election.

Though the new board will choose the replacement for Superintendent Michael E. Hickey, who will retire in two years, the race has remained a low-key affair.

"This is a system with 40,000 kids," Ashmore said. "There doesn't seem to be a great deal of interest in who [the board members] are. It's fairly remarkable when you think about it. I think it will heat up after the primaries."

The PTA Council of Howard County plans a round-table discussion next month that will include the four primary survivors running for the six-year terms that pay $9,900 annually.

Profiles of the candidates:

Glenn Amato

Amato, a Hanover resident who is a transportation manager for Ryder Trucks, decided to enter the race after battling the school system over the education of his son Gordon.

Amato said the school system continued to pass Gordon -- who suffers from attention deficit disorder and dyslexia -- though he wasn't learning basic math and reading skills. Gordon could not read in the first grade, but school officials said he could, Amato said.

"We took the books away from him and gave him brand new books that he hadn't seen and he couldn't read the words," said Amato, 42. "He had memorized all the books. They said to us, 'Don't worry about it. We're working on this.' "

Amato said similar problems continued through the end of fifth grade, until he and his wife enrolled Gordon in Anne Arundel County's Summit School for learning-disabled children, which costs $15,800 a year, he said. Despite meetings with school officials about Gordon's education, Amato insists that the school system remained uncooperative.

Gordon is a sixth-grader at the Summit School, where he has made significant progress, Amato said.

"The issue is that all children have the right, the obligation from the school system to educate them to their fullest possible potential," Amato said. "I'm not running for revenge. It's a six-year commitment."

Amato said his main concern is that school officials be accountable to students and parents. He also is concerned about classroom size, he said. Amato has three other children enrolled in Howard County schools.

"My favorite word is going to be 'Why?' " Amato said.

Lee S. Ashmore

Lee S. Ashmore doesn't have any children, but the Columbia lawyer sees that as an advantage in his campaign.

"You're not there for your child. You're there for the entire system," said Ashmore, 38. "Inevitably, someone is going to see the system through the experience of their child. A broader view eliminates any question of bias."

Ashmore said he decided to run for the school board because he was concerned about the schools' ability to keep pace with Howard County's growth. Friends also encouraged him to run, saying they were dissatisfied with the other candidates, he said.

The Columbia resident said the school system should focus on building enough schools and facilities to keep pace with the increasing number of students.

"Everyone likes smaller class sizes, but we're just not in a position financially to think about that," Ashmore said. "Maybe someday."

Ashmore said the selection of the next superintendent, school safety and special education are other major issues. The candidate believes his experience as a mediator gives him another significant advantage.

"I think those skills will come in handy for me," Ashmore said. "My approach would be to talk to the teachers; try to find a solution that takes into account the problems and the concerns of all these groups as opposed to looking at it through my own personal window."

Sandra H. French

After spending six years as a school board member, Sandra H. French is hoping for another term.

"When it starts to be more red lights than green lights, why are you still in this job?" said French, an Ellicott City resident who has been an English teacher at Glen Burnie High School in Anne Arundel County and school board chairwoman. "For me, the green light is student achievement. All of the problems are problems that are critical to our children and to our nation to succeed and thrive."

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