Proposal would add 2 to panel

Measure includes cut in school board terms from six years to four

Election by district defeated

Delegation also kills bills to aid church, regulate tobacco sales

January 20, 2000|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The idea of electing Howard County's school board members by district is dead, but another attempt to make the board more representative is in the works.

Two Democratic legislators have proposed a bill to increase the school board's size from five to seven members and shorten terms from six to four years, starting this year. That bill will be addressed a public hearing scheduled Feb. 15 in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.

The county legislators voted to kill three other bills at an Annapolis delegation meeting yesterday.

The proposals would have: provided $392,500 in state bond money to help build a day care center at St. Stephens African Methodist Episcopal Church in Elkridge; suspended or revoked licenses of merchants who sell tobacco products to people younger than 18; and allowed the county teachers union to negotiate with the school board to collect representation fees from nonunion members who are board employees.

The school board bill would make fewer drastic changes than the original election-by-district measure, but could help satisfy some community complaints, sponsors said.

"Six years is an awfully long time" to serve on the school board, said Del. Elizabeth Bobo, who is co-sponsoring the new bill with fellow Democrat, Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer.

Expanding the board to seven members would cut members' workload and provide more opportunities for "greater geographic diversity" on the board, Bobo said.

The legislators voted to kill the original idea, which would have had the members elected from County Council districts, despite a plea from the sponsor, Del. Frank S. Turner, that the bill would spur "more accountability" from board members.

Turner, a Democrat, said the bill would have guaranteed at least one member from the county's most populous area -- east of U.S. 29.

No current school board members live east of the highway.

"By electing people by district, we will be better. We're not No. 1. Kent County is. We're No. 2," Turner said, referring to recent results of Maryland's standardized test scores for public school students in reading and math.

Despite his arguments, Turner's bill failed when all three county state senators opposed it, as did Bobo and Republican Dels. Robert L. Flanagan and Robert H. Kittleman.

Flanagan argued that changing to district elections as the county closes in on choosing a new school superintendent could make things harder.

"We don't want to discourage either candidate," he said.

The bond issue that would have provided matching funds for the church-sponsored day care center proved surprisingly contentious.

Although a delegation hearing in November drew a protest from the American Civil Liberties Union -- which contends the money would violate the constitutional separation of church and state -- that wasn't the problem yesterday.

Instead, rates at the proposed center were an issue.

"Why would we want to subsidize this so they can compete" at market rates? said Del. Donald E. Murphy, a Republican.

Murphy said the public should help finance the center only if it would offer low-cost day care for poor families.

Turner said the church needs the help because it has a small congregation and would provide a needed service to the local community.

Most day care centers in the area are full, he said.

But six of the eight county delegates disagreed and voted against the bill.

Undeterred, Turner said later that he would ask Gov. Parris N. Glendening to include the money in his supplemental capital budget anyway, and the Rev. Alicia Byrd, the church's pastor, said she also is not giving up.

"We'll look for other resources," Byrd said. "We'll make it happen."

Republican Sen. Martin G. Madden's bill allowing county health inspectors to issue citations to the owners of stores who sell tobacco products to underage teens raised objections from the delegation on several counts.

"I don't want a government bureaucrat giving me a citation," Kasemeyer said, defending owners of small businesses.

Herman Charity, lobbyist for County Executive James N. Robey, said the law would cost the county $100,000 because workers would need to be hired to perform the health inspections and testify in court.

Del. Shane Pendergrass, delegation chairwoman, said she objects to laws imposed on county government by state officials who don't provide money to fund them.

The delegation rejected Madden's point that "right now nobody's responsible for underage sales" and defeated the bill, with five of the eight delegates voting against it.

Pendergrass, a Democrat, has filed a similar version of the measure, except that it would merely enable county government to regulate smoking more closely by requiring a county permit to sell tobacco products. If a merchant violated the law, the permit could be suspended or revoked.

She said she has proposed the bill in previous years, and it has been well-received locally, but the measure died in the full General Assembly because any local attempt to regulate tobacco was seen as a statewide precedent.

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