Several Howard County school board candidates used last night's final debate before the primary election to criticize incumbent Stephen C. Bounds' decision to apply for out-of-state superintendent jobs while running for re-election.
The political forum, sponsored by four school Parent-Teacher Associations, drew about 30 people and all 17 actively campaigning candidates to Long Reach High School in Columbia.
Four candidates will advance past the primary on Tuesday to the November general election. Two board seats are up for grabs.
Hanover resident Glenn Amato used his opening statement to lambaste Bounds, the only school board member seeking re-election. "We found out that Mr. Bounds' purpose of running is to keep a very nice resume," Amato said.
"Integrity is an important word," Amato said. "We need to make sure we pick people who are truly committed to educating all children."
On Monday, Bounds, a lawyer, was named a semifinalist for school superintendent in Lansing, Mich. He said Tuesday that if he doesn't get that job and is re-elected, he would leave in midterm for the right superintendent's position. School board terms are six years.
Bounds bristled at Amato's speech.
"It's very difficult standing up here and having someone question your integrity," the Woodbine resident said.
During the forum, Bounds stuck to his typical opening statement, which highlights his work on the board. The only change came when he said he was willing to talk to audience members about his career situation after the forum.
Promise to serve
Two other candidates, while not referring specifically to Bounds, addressed the issue indirectly.
"If I am elected, I will serve you for the full six-year term that you elected me to do," said Melody J. Higgins of Ellicott City.
Mount Airy resident Stephen Swanhart made a similar statement.
Candidate Allen Dyer of Glenelg repeated his promise not to serve a full term if elected. He has advocated four-year terms, saying board members should have to face the voters in less than six years.
Representatives from PTAs at Gorman Crossing, Jeffers Hill, Stevens Forest and Waterloo elementary schools questioned the candidates.
The four schools are part of a coalition interested in equity and redistricting issues. Pupils at Jeffers Hill and Waterloo would be affected by the redistricting proposal that the school board will vote on at the end of the month.
Margaret Hunt, Jeffers Hill PTA president, asked candidates what they thought the impact would be on a focus school if redistricting crowded the building. Jeffers Hill -- one of the county's focus schools, which get extra resources to combat lower test scores -- would become crowded under a proposed redistricting plan.
"It's a drastic change to change the population of a focus school, and I think we need to protect it so that doesn't happen," said Kathleen Sinkinson, a candidate from Ellicott City, who called for a "much better" redistricting process.
"Overcrowding a focus school would just increase the problems there," said Daniel M. Dotson, a candidate from Columbia.
When a school is crowded, teachers want to go elsewhere, said June D. Cofield, a candidate from Columbia.
Don Dunn, a candidate from Ellicott City, said the school board's overall approach to focus schools constituted "poor management."
As an example, he noted the board's decision not to fund a $250,000 initiative at a focus school, Phelps Luck Elementary, which would have lengthened the school day and year for staff members and some pupils.
The other candidates are Marcelino Bedolla, Kristine Lockwood and Michele Williams, all of Columbia; Patricia S. Gordon, Jerry D. Johnston and Michael F. Katz, all of Ellicott City; Arthur Neal Willoughby of Jessup; and Virginia Charles of North Laurel.