Hopefuls share goals for schools

Board contenders differ on how to achieve ends

Election 2004

February 29, 2004|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

The nine candidates running for the Howard County Board of Education may be nonpartisan, but they're clearly split into two camps: those who want to overhaul the system and those who want to work within it.

Still, the radical thinkers and their pragmatic counterparts seem to have more similarities than differences.

Most have children in Howard schools, most are in their 40s and nearly all profess the same goals: raising the performances of poor and minority students; improving the use of funds; improving efforts to attract and retain teachers; and providing adequate schools.

Tuesday's primary will knock five of them from the race, and four will advance to the November election to vie for two board seats available at the end of the year. In December, terms expire for James P. O'Donnell, who is running for re-election, and Sandra H. French, who is leaving the board after almost 12 years.

FOR THE RECORD - An article that ran in yesterday's Howard section misstated the platform of Howard County Board of Education candidate Cynthia Vaillancourt. She suggests the school system consider converting some underperforming and crowded county schools to year-round schedules. She does not suggest the entire county switch to that schedule. The Sun regrets the error.

Here's who's running:

Frank Aquino

Frank Aquino is a 46-year-old attorney and Ellicott City resident with three children in Howard County schools.

Web site: www.aquinofor boe.com.

Relevant experience: Chairman of a school system redistricting committee; multiple PTA affiliations; member of the county's Spending Affordability Committee; member of the school board's Operating Budget Review Committee.

Focus: Aquino said he wants to ensure the best use of limited funds by creating a more forward-thinking approach to the budget and updating the financial management system, which he calls "woefully" inadequate.

"How can you properly manage your finances if you have an antiquated system?" said Aquino, who would also like to improve compensation packages for teachers by mixing salaries with attractive benefits.

Another area that has Aquino's attention is improving technology used in instruction by giving kids more computer access and streamlining processes, particularly for teachers, so they can spend their time teaching, not struggling with data.

Robert Ballinger II

Robert Ballinger II is a 37-year-old public information officer with the Maryland Division of Correction. He lives in Ellicott City and has one child in Howard County schools and another nearly school-age.

Web site: www.robertbal linger.com.

Relevant experience: Vice president of Northfield Elementary PTA; member of the Special Education Citizen Advisory Committee; member of the school board's Operating Budget Review Committee.

Focus: "I think the focus of the campaign is responsibility and leadership," Ballinger said. "I want to make sure school budgets are fiscally sound and try to look at renovations and growth and planning. I'm also all for all-day kindergarten and after-school programs to offer up opportunities for children to be able to hone in and work on their skills."

Ballinger would also like to see a decentralization of decision-making and greater autonomy for principals, something the county has been trying to move away from to ensure equity.

"To get the involvement of teachers and parents and principals in schools, we need to give them ability to make decisions," Ballinger said.

Allen Dyer

Allen Dyer is a 56-year-old public interest attorney and Ellicott City resident with one child in a Howard school and one graduate.

Web site: www.lawlab.com/campaign.

Relevant experience: Handled legal cases involving education law and the state's Open Meetings Act; established a parent and student e-mail communication system at River Hill High and a Web site.

Focus: Dyer has based his campaign on three ideas: respect for the law, respect for people and fiscal accountability, which he said can best be illustrated through his creation of a well-trafficked Internet discussion group dedicated to education in Howard County.

"That's sort of key," Dyer said. "It was the genesis of a lot of what I am interested in -- trying to bring to the school system more openness, a flat hierarchy and widespread availability of information in electronic format."

Dyer, who has sued the Howard school board for meeting in private, said he believes "in a very open governmental process with public scrutiny of everything" and he wants a board that reaches out more to the public.

Joanne Heckman

Joanne Heckman is a 48-year-old county volunteer and Columbia resident with one child in a Howard school and another who is home-schooled.

Web site: www.publicschool accountability.info.

Relevant experience: Former member of the school system's Citizens Advisory Committee; chairwoman of the Education Committee for Vision: Howard County, established a nonprofit after-school program in 29 schools.

Focus: "I believe we need more community involvement and parent participation and new ideas and possibilities for choices and innovations," Heckman said. "We can't do any of that without reforming the institution from within, with greater accountability and policies in place to facilitate greater cooperation with the outside world."

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