Amato takes panel to task School board candidate criticizes son's care

'Driving personal agenda'

Some officials say actions inappropriate

October 23, 1998|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

Reading an open letter laced with criticism of people he might be working with soon, Howard County school board candidate Glenn Amato urged the panel last night to address a dispute over the special education of his child.

Naming Superintendent Michael E. Hickey, board Chairman Stephen C. Bounds and board member and candidate Sandra H. French in the letter addressed to Bounds, Amato said Hickey had not answered key questions about his son's education and requested that the issue "be addressed in the general public board meeting."

The statement is the latest example of Amato's public criticism of Hickey and other officials with whom he might be working after the Nov. 3 election.

Although Amato says he is merely being an advocate for his child, others say he could be setting himself up for a rocky tenure on the school board if he is elected. But the 42-year-old Elkridge area resident doesn't see his anger as a negative.

"If our forefathers hadn't gotten angry at the British over a single issue of taxation without representation, then we'd still be a British colony," said Amato, a transportation manager for Ryder truck rental company.

"If another parent or another politician had stepped up years ago and had made sure that parents were treated fairly and that the school system didn't just want to cover up their rears then I wouldn't be going through this nightmare," he said.

But current and former school board members say Amato isn't doing himself any favors by taking a confrontational tone.

"I don't think you're setting yourself up to be very effective when you alienate the people you'll be serving with," said Dana Hanna, a former school board chairman who served on the board from 1988 to 1994. "It's going to be very hard to work with the superintendent when you've called him everything but a one-eyed cretin."

Amato has focused his campaign on a long-standing argument with the school system about his son, Gordon, who has dyslexia and attention-deficit disorder. He is one of four candidates, including French, former substitute teacher Laura Waters and engineer Arthur Neal Willoughby, competing for two seats.

Amato claims that the public schools passed Gordon, now a sixth-grader, though he had not learned basic math and reading skills. He says school officials ignored suggestions from outside professionals who worked with Gordon, insisting the public schools could accommodate him.

Amato is seeking to recoup expenses for Gordon's private education at the Summit School, a school for learning-disabled children in Anne Arundel County that costs $15,800 a year. The school system has declined to do so.

Amato also claims he has not gotten a satisfactory response to his questions about Gordon's education.

"As for the board's insinuation that the questions are to further my political career, the board is so far off-base it is unbelievable," Amato read from the letter. "If the board will review all of the correspondence you will see that these questions arose long before my decision to run for Howard County school board."

Amato also contends that Bounds and French said they could do nothing to help him.

"It is so disappointing that not any of the school board members have said, 'We need to figure out how this happened to your son, and we need to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else,' " he said.

Correspondence between Amato and school officials has been testy at times. In a response July 22, Hickey said Amato's questions "seemed to be largely rhetorical and argumentative in nature, and some of them are questions I simply cannot answer."

In a letter to Hickey June 26, Amato said he was "very disappointed that you did not call me to discuss your thoughts. Just receiving your letter via fax was so cold and impersonal."

Amato went on to say that Hickey was concerned only "about the bottom line" and cared more about money than Gordon's future.

At public forums and in interviews, Amato has said that being criticized by the superintendent is good for him politically. He pointed out that he won a slot in the general election, having spent only $500 on his primary campaign.

"I honestly believe that Dr. Hickey has alienated a lot of people," Amato said. "A negative endorsement from him is like a positive endorsement from everybody else."

Hickey struck a conciliatory note yesterday, saying he prides himself on being able to work "with any school board member."

"I think that if he is one of them, I think we'll work out a relationship and hopefully put any animosity behind us in order for us to do our jobs the way people expect us to do them," Hickey said.

Hanna said that in a philosophical body such as a school board, it's important to have good working relationships with colleagues.

"If you're a legislator, opinions are us," Hanna said. "That's the nature of the beast. They don't have to be collegial or in any way predisposed to working as a group. You can't do that on the school board."

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