Black issues focus of forum

School board hopefuls talk about equity, vouchers, redistricting

`People are angry'

January 25, 2000|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

At a forum in Columbia, Howard County school board candidates were asked last night to consider issues that are important to the African-American community, such as equity, affirmative action, redistricting and school vouchers.

"We're asking whomever the electorate votes for and puts on the board that you consider these issues which are near and dear to our hearts," said Natalie Woodson, chairwoman of the county NAACP's education committee, "because we have a lot of people in this community who are hurting and a lot of people who are angry."

Sixteen of 18 candidates and about 50 people attended the two-hour forum sponsored by the Howard County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at the Dora Mack Carter Christian Center in Columbia.

It was the third of at least seven candidates' forums scheduled in the coming weeks. Two board seats are at stake.

Candidates Cheri J. Herschman of Columbia and Kathleen Sinkinson of Ellicott City did not attend last night.

Each candidate was given two minutes to sketch background, priorities and positions on issues. They then fielded questions from the audience.

The candidates offered possible solutions to the equity problem -- disparities in resources, staffing, technology and test scores between older and newer schools and schools with higher populations of African-American students.

Candidate Michael Katz, an accountant, said more attention needs to be paid to growth and development in the county, which often leads to crowding and inequities in school buildings and staffing.

Candidate Kristine Lockwood, a county teacher, said too many inexperienced teachers work in many of the county's poorest-performing schools, and most young teachers get too little support from the school system.

"I'm told that gets better the longer you stay in the system," she said. "But why should my students have to wait five years for me to gain that experience?"

Candidates Arthur Neal Willoughby, an engineer, and Allen Dyer, a computer consultant, said citizens are not fairly represented on the school board.

Dyer suggested an alternative voting system where voters rank their choices instead of voting for one or two candidates.

Said Willoughby: "I want someone on the school board to represent the people who live east of Route 29."

Candidate Stephen Swanhart said the school system has placed too much emphasis on test scores.

Education officials must recognize that the schools have changed demographically and use that information to make the schools better, said candidate Michele Williams.

"Howard County is not a homogeneous community," Williams said. "Howard County can do a better job of representing all our children."

Afterward, Hilda Barrett, a member of the NAACP's education committee, said the two winners should be aware that equity is a main concern in the African-American community.

"Our black children have been suffering, and they still suffer," she said. "And what we are feeling is that we don't have representation on the school board. They have not been attentive to the people who are coming to them."

The other school board candidates are Marcelino Bedolla, June D. Cofield and Daniel M. Dotson, all of Columbia; Don Dunn, Patricia S. Gordon, Melody J. Higgins and Jerry D. Johnston, all of Ellicott City; Virginia Charles of North Laurel; Glenn Amato of Hanover; and Stephen C. Bounds of Woodbine, the sole incumbent.

Terms on the five-member board are six years. The terms are staggered.

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

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