18 eye seats on school board

Candidates bring various backgrounds, priorities to race

January 07, 2000|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

They come from all walks of life. They are young and old. Their priorities are varied.

As a group, the 18 people running for the Howard County Board of Education give the public an unprecedented number of choices. Board of Elections officials believe this is the largest field in a Howard school board race.

Two seats are up for grabs -- one held by Stephen C. Bounds, who is running for re-election, and the other held by Karen B. Campbell, who is not. Board terms are six years, and the pay is $9,900 a year.

The four candidates who earn the most votes in the March 7 primary will face off in the general election Nov. 7.

The board hopefuls range in age from 26 to 75. Some are educators, some are school volunteers, some are business people. Nearly all are parents.

One teaches in Howard County and would have to resign her position if elected.

Six have run for school board before, one in New York.

Three are black, one is Hispanic and the rest are white. Race has been an issue in previous board elections, and this school year Natalie Woodson of the Howard County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said there is "a need for diversity on the board." Each of the current members is white.

Although candidates' priorities differ, there are trends: Some are running because they think the school board doesn't listen well to parents, or because they believe that perception exists.

A sizable group considers it a priority to raise teachers' salaries or give instructors more resources.

Several say they want resources distributed more equitably among schools.

Here is what each candidate stands for:

When Glenn Amato ran for the board in 1998, the campaign was marked by his dispute with the school system over the special education of one of his four children. He said he is a candidate again because current board members "don't seem to use any common sense in the decisions they make."

Amato, 43, a Hanover resident, is a recruiter for Ryder Systems Inc. Among his priorities: "If one school has more needs than another school, then you need to put more resources there. I realize that they're trying to do it, but they're being rather timid about it."

He also wants smaller class sizes and a system that ensures all pupils learn what is expected of them.

Marcelino Bedolla, 63, whose three children graduated from Howard County high schools, sees a lack of confidence in the board. He wants to restore confidence -- and make sure teachers have sufficient resources.

"I'm a teacher myself, and that's always a big thing: Do we have the materials we need to implement the curriculum," said Bedolla, a Columbia resident who teaches science at Southwestern High School in Baltimore.

Stephen C. Bounds, 44, the sole incumbent, said his priorities are to "continue to raise the bar of achievement for all students" through initiatives such as reducing class sizes; having staff members develop a long-term plan for integrating technology into instruction; and making the transition to a new superintendent a smooth one. The current superintendent retires in June.

Bounds believes the board is responsive to parents, but he said he realizes some do not think so. "We clearly need to be better at hearing the voice of the customer," said Bounds, who advocates providing more ways for residents to address the board.

An attorney, he lives in Woodbine and has three children.

Virginia Charles, 52, a North Laurel resident who taught in Baltimore and Baltimore County schools for 13 1/2 years, said her priorities include getting more help early for pupils with psychological problems. She also wants a "more equitable distribution of resources" to older schools, and proposes that personnel in the system's central office be required to substitute in classes once a month.

"There are people in central office who have not seen the inside of a classroom for many, many years," said Charles, who ran for the school board in 1996.

Charles, who has a daughter in 12th grade, has volunteered in schools for years and was president of the PTA Council of Howard County in 1996.

Columbia resident June D. Cofield, 42, who has two children, said the board does not appear to welcome input. She wants to change that.

"I'm running to provide an avenue to open up the communication lines," said Cofield, who wants more parents invited to participate in school task forces and committees.

She served recently on the County Council's school equity committee and was the PTA Council of Howard County's vice president for issues until she declared her candidacy.

Daniel M. Dotson, 33, public policy coordinator at a Towson organization that is an advocate for people with disabilities, thinks more special education pupils should attend their neighborhood schools -- instead of being sent elsewhere for the services they need.

One of his two children has cerebral palsy and is educated in a regular classroom at Clemens Crossing Elementary in Columbia.

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