Candidates address open enrollment

School board hopefuls state their positions

primary is Tuesday

March 03, 2000|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

Howard County voters will make their choices Tuesday from a pool of 17 school board candidates running for two open seats. The four with the most votes will advance to the general election in November -- but residents can vote for only two candidates.

One candidate, Cheri J. Herschman, has dropped out of the race, although her name remains on the ballot.

Issues that often surfaced during the primary campaign include open enrollment, redistricting, treatment of older schools and how the school board operates. The Sun asked the candidates for their opinions on those topics.

Here are the responses from candidates on the subject of open enrollment. Responses on other subjects will be published Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

Do you support the open enrollment policy as it is now? If not, how would you change it?

Glenn Amato: I support the open enrollment policy. It allows parents who cannot or do not want to put their children in private schools a choice. But, again, it works only for people who can afford to transport their children. What we need to do is ensure that all of our schools are equally excellent. That would greatly reduce the desire for open enrollment and make it a nonissue. It all relates back to doing the right thing for the children.

Marcelino Bedolla: I would use open enrollment to fill under-populated schools and to reduce overcrowded schools on a year-to-year basis. Transfers from a focus school would only be allowed if an urgent need could be demonstrated.

Stephen C. Bounds: Open enrollment has positives and negatives, but is a useful tool when controlled as is done every year when the open and closed designations are established. It works to ease overcrowding and avoid under-enrollment, both of which are detrimental to our students. If open enrollment were eliminated, redistricting would be required on a much greater scale, and the same people would object even more strongly to more boundary line changes. The present open annual process is not perfect, but is probably far preferable than the alternatives.

Virginia Charles: I would like to say that we should stop open enrollment in Howard County. However, since many schools are academically unequal, and there are severe inequalities in supplies, materials, books, facilities and faculty, I have to support open enrollment at this time. The Board of Education cannot allow these inequities to exist. We need to continue to supply resources (equipment and personnel) to schools in need. Presently we are eighth in the state in terms of the number of schools that have classrooms wired to the Internet. Only 54 percent of our schools are presently wired, and most of these are new schools. This is unacceptable! Perhaps when these inequities are remedied, we will not need open enrollment.

June D. Cofield: I do not support the open enrollment policy as it is, but I do support a parent's right to be concerned that their children receive the best public education available to them. If open enrollment avails parents peace of mind concerning their child's education, and the policy allows them that option, it must be honored. Open enrollment should be for specific cases for approval across the county. I would work to change the perceptions of our schools as all being the best by meeting the needs unique to each school so families would want to stay in their neighborhood schools.

Daniel M. Dotson: All of the equity issues in the schools need to be addressed, so families won't feel the need to open enroll or to move to find quality education. We must reserve open enrollment as a way to accommodate families' needs for things such as day care logistics. However, we must be careful that policies such as open enrollment do not create unintended consequences, such as equity issues and overcrowding, which have occurred in some schools. I support the concept of neighborhood schools and will advocate for stronger communities.

Don Dunn: No. The policy is used by parents to escape inequities in the school system. The litany of reasons range from redistricting, aging facilities, poor administration, lack of technology to bus schedules and lack of adequate day care. Open enrollment is not an excuse for the inequities. The educational system must overcome these challenges. Our rapidly expanding school system is undercapitalized. The cost of the investment to solve the present problems and to prevent future problems needs to be calculated. The return on this investment must be sold to the community and a financial commitment obtained from the governing officials.

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