School board candidates debate equity and redistricting at forum

Of 17 hopefuls, 16 appear at event in Ellicott City

February 24, 2000|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

At a political forum last night, Howard County school board candidates debated issues such as the meaning of "equity in education" and the best way to redraw school boundary lines.

More than 50 people attended the event sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Howard County and held at the Department of Education building in Ellicott City.

Sixteen of the 17 candidates appeared at the forum. Michael F. Katz of Ellicott City was the exception.

In the March 7 primary, four candidates will be selected to vie for the two board seats at stake in the November general election.

At past forums, candidates answered questions on a wide range of topics, including vouchers, school prayer, the placement of African-American students in advanced classes and the length of terms for school board members.

During last night's forum, a moderator read questions submitted by the audience.

One question asked about the meaning of "equity in education."

Some candidates said it means giving more resources to students with greater needs.

"Equity means fairness," said Kristine Lockwood of Columbia. "We educate students fairly when we educate them according to their needs."

Others candidates said the term means equal distribution of resources.

"It's an equal playing field," said Arthur Neal Willoughby of Jessup.

Kathleen Sinkinson of Ellicott City said all schools should have adequate resources such as textbooks, "but beyond that, some schools need more."

Candidates were asked their views on the annual redrawing of boundary lines, which can change where students attend school. All who responded -- including Stephen C. Bounds, the only incumbent -- said the process needs altering.

Bounds proposed that a citizens committee give a redistricting recommendation as an alternative to the changes recommended by education officials. The school board would consider both proposals, he said.

Calling redistricting a "necessary evil" because 1,500 new students enter the Howard County school system annually, Bounds said, "We'll come up with a better solution by getting more people involved."

Allen Dyer of Glenelg responded that the incumbent waited until the end of his six-year term to suggest a different approach to redistricting.

"I think the fact that redistricting is arousing such passion is a good reason for voters to elect two new board members this year," Dyer said.

Glenn Amato of Hanover said the board and the County Council should "plan together as a team," so that redistricting -- often triggered by housing construction -- isn't needed as often.

Melody J. Higgins of Ellicott City said the county uses a "piecemeal" redistricting process.

"I think the county desperately needs to look at a countywide redistricting plan," she said.

The other candidates for the school board are Marcelino Bedolla, June D. Cofield, Daniel M. Dotson and Michele Williams, all of Columbia; Don Dunn, Patricia S. Gordon and Jerry D. Johnston, all of Ellicott City; Stephen Swanhart of Mount Airy; and Virginia Charles of North Laurel.

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