School board change argued

Measure proposes to add 2 members, cut terms to 4 years

`A sign of ... growing up'

Lawmakers back bills on housing fraud, tuition adjustments

November 15, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County's education community came out last night to support a bill that would enlarge the school board to seven members while cutting their terms.

The bill was among a dozen local measures offered for public comment at a hearing by the county's state legislators, who are preparing for the General Assembly session, which begins in January.

The school board, the county's PTA council and individuals all testified in favor of the bill, which failed last year because of opposition from two of the county's three state senators. Local bills must be approved by both delegates and senators voting separately.

"Six years is a long term in a demanding and emotionally charged job," said Mary Kay Sigaty, a Columbia resident active in education.

Allen Dyer of Ellicott City, a frequent school critic, said a larger board would be "a sign of the Board of Education of Howard County growing up. Six-year terms isolate the board from the public."

School board Chairwoman Jane B. Schuchardt said the board voted to support the bill although she doubts the value of four-year terms. The board has five members who serve six years.

State Sen. Martin J. Madden, a Republican who has announced that he is resigning his office Jan. 7, criticized four-year terms because they could result in a complete school board turnover in one election. The current six-year terms are staggered.

Fellow Republican state Sen. Christopher McCabe also opposed the school board changes. He has said that the school board should not have more members than the five-member County Council.

The county's biggest priority in Annapolis - as always - is to get as much school construction money as possible, but that was not up for debate last night at the public hearing on local bills at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.

Some of the bills have been considered and rejected before, such as Republican Del. Donald E. Murphy's proposal to allow the school board to levy and collect property taxes so it can directly fund schools.

The county government does the taxing, and school officials must request their annual budget.

Debate over the composition of the school board began two years ago amid concerns that some county schools in older areas were falling behind those in newer communities.

Del. Frank S. Turner submitted a bill to have school board members elected by districts because none of the five members then lived east of U.S. 29. The board also included no minority members. That changed after the last election when one African-American and one North Laurel resident won seats on the board.

That idea was rejected, but a school board committee later recommended expanding the board to seven members and shortening terms from six years to four. The bill narrowly failed last year, but Del. Elizabeth Bobo brought it back.

A bill by Del. Shane Pendergrass, a Democrat, seeks to prohibit gas stations from getting liquor licenses. The same bill was rejected earlier because opponents said that the county liquor board can reject such requests, if one is made.

Four of the bills were for state funding of projects, such as $500,000 to help restore the mansion house at Blandair, the former home of Nancy Smith. The county plans to build a park on her 300-acre farm.

Howard County wants another $500,000 in matching funds to help build a new police and fire training facility, $400,000 to renovate space in the circuit courthouse, and one bill requests $1 million to help the Traditional Acupuncture Institute expand to a campus on Johns Hopkins Road.

Dario Brocolino, deputy state's attorney, told the legislators that the courthouse renovation is "penny wise and dollar foolish" because it removes the state's attorney's office from the building. "We desperately need a new courthouse," he said.

Two of the 12 bills under consideration are late additions.

One would increase the pay of Orphans Court judges from $6,380 to $10,000 a year, with the chief judge going from $7,400 to $12,000. Orphans Court Judges process wills and estates.

At the end of the meeting, legislators supported several bills.

One would allow Howard County students who attend the Laurel College Center in nearby Prince George's County to pay in-county tuition rates. The college is a joint venture between Howard and Prince George's County Community colleges, but it is in Laurel. Presidents of both colleges requested the bill. Another seeks to curb housing fraud by making it a crime to submit false information on housing subsidy applications.

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