Candidates pushing big changes left behind in school board vote

1,000 absentee ballots to be counted today

March 09, 2000|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

With plenty of angry candidates and major-change agents to choose from, Howard County voters opted instead to advance four candidates who are -- by comparison -- fine-tuners.

But candidates and observers debated yesterday whether that's the message voters intended.

After all votes except about 1,000 absentee ballots were tabulated Tuesday night, leading candidates were incumbent Stephen C. Bounds, with 8,414 votes; Virginia Charles, with 6,509 votes; Jerry D. Johnston, with 6,426 votes; and Patricia S. Gordon, with 6,265 votes.

Absentee ballots were to be counted today. Four candidates will advance to the general election Nov. 7 to vie for two seats.

Seventeen people actively campaigned for school board seats. The top four vote-getters proposed changes to the school system, but their proposals were not as far-reaching as some of the other board hopefuls.

Among the more striking examples:

* Allen Dyer, a Glenelg resident, pledged to serve four years of the school board term because he thinks six years is too long to serve without facing the voters again. He also proposed allowing residents to vote on board policy via the Internet. Dyer received 2,099 votes, ranking him 15th in the field.

* Glenn Amato, a Hanover resident, is suing the school system over special-education services for one of his children. He has been highly critical of the current school board, saying members are unresponsive and allow social promotion. He received 6,049 votes, putting him in fifth place.

Longtime board member Karen B. Campbell said yesterday the primary results indicate that the most vocal proponents of dramatic change did not represent most residents.

"When I heard the results, what I said was, `Gosh, the public has a lot more sense than I gave them credit for,' " Campbell said. " The public made the right decision."

Bounds thinks the election results signify that voters are largely satisfied with the Howard County school system.

"None of [the top four] felt compelled in the campaigning to take shots at the school system or the school board," he said. "The people who were negative were rejected by the voters."

"I think what this election showed us is that the majority of people do not think this is a broken school system," he said.

Some don't agree that voters were looking for candidates advocating minor change.

Amato thinks that many simply "went with name recognition."

Candidate Kristine Lockwood, a Howard County teacher concerned that the education students receive is "mediocre," believes the close nature of the race speaks for itself. Fewer than 800 votes separated the second- and seventh-place candidates.

"I don't see it as a vote for the status quo," said Lockwood, who placed seventh with 5,770 votes. "If it were, then the rest of us would have been much farther behind."

That frustrated Barry Budish, president of the Waterloo Elementary School parent-teacher association, who thinks voters might have wanted change but didn't pick a few candidates to rally around.

"If you add up all the votes, change won," he said. "Big change got more votes than little change."

Bounds, an attorney from Woodbine, said during the campaign that he wants to change the annual contentious redistricting process so that a citizens' committee -- as well as staff members -- would give school boundary-line recommendations to the board.

Johnston's proposals include increasing the ways parents and teachers can communicate with the board. He would add a nonvoting "teacher associate" to the board and allow citizens to speak on any topic during open-forum portions of board meetings. An accountant, he lives in Ellicott City.

Charles' priorities include more equitable distribution of resources to older schools. She also wants to require all central office employees to be substitute teachers once a month, giving them a regular glimpse of the classrooms. The North Laurel resident, a former teacher, has volunteered extensively in county schools for 13 years.

Gordon, who was a teacher, administrator and board member in New York, emphasizes early-childhood education. She would like to see all-day kindergarten and foreign-language programs in the elementary schools.

Natalie Woodson, education chairman for the county branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said she was particularly pleased that Gordon, who is African-American, made it to the finalist level.

"If in fact she is able to be elected in the fall, that will bring some diversity to the board, and that is an element that is sorely needed," Woodson said.

Sun staff writer Tanika White contributed to this article.

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