Howard Week

August 29, 2004

Despite Rouse sale, company proceeding with Columbia plans

The Rouse Co. is proceeding with its Columbia development plans and its offer to sell Merriweather Post Pavilion to Howard County, despite agreeing to be sold to a competitor, a company spokesman said last week.

Bob Rubenkonig said the Rouse Co. is operating with the attitude of "it's definitely business as usual" after consenting to be acquired by Chicago-based General Growth Properties Inc. for $7.2 billion in cash in a deal that was announced Aug. 20 and must be approved by Rouse shareholders.

"It's not like all of a sudden the Rouse Co. business comes to a stop," Rubenkonig said. "We continue on and continue with the plans. ... We continue with what we began."

Rouse has offered to sell Merriweather to Howard County and is moving toward commercially developing the 51-acre, crescent-shaped property behind Symphony Woods, which surrounds the 9-acre pavilion site and includes the venue's parking area.

Senior housing approved for Waverly Woods

A hotly contested proposal to build a subsidized apartment house for seniors in Waverly Woods was approved on a 3-1 vote by the Howard County Zoning Board on Monday night - the climax to four long, impassioned August hearings that each drew more than 100 protesting residents.

Developers' attorney David Carney said the board's decision was critical in determining whether moderate-income housing for people 62 and older is going to continue to be built in Howard, where six similar buildings exist.

"This case has become a test case," he said. "This is the first time I've seen any group of residents fight moderate-income [senior] housing. The whole county is watching," he said.

Promoting academics among black males

When an African-American boy walks into a gifted-and-talented class, he might get the same funny feeling that Mychal Wynn's son reported to him, the motivational speaker told hundreds of Howard County teachers Tuesday at Mount Hebron High School.

"Everybody's looking at me," Wynn's son told him. "They thought I was lost."

"In a school 46 percent black, he was the only [African-American boy] in the class," Wynn said.

Wynn's message is that everyone in school has the power to influence a child.

"Black boys don't know how to navigate their way through school," he said. "If you have a black boy with enough courage to come into the [gifted-and-talented] classroom, he needs someone to encourage him."

Wynn, of Marietta, Ga., was brought to Howard County by the leaders of seven schools (Mount Hebron High School; Patapsco and Mount View middle schools; and Hollifield Station, St. John's Lane, Manor Woods and Waverly elementary schools) to encourage teachers to promote academic achievement among male African-American students. The Horizon Foundation, a nonprofit community wellness program in Howard County, paid his $4,500 fee.

O'Donnell withdraws from school board race

Howard County Board of Education member James P. O'Donnell has dropped out of the election, saying he is taking responsibility for the failures of the board. O'Donnell said Wednesday that he is no longer a "viable candidate," leaving three candidates to compete for two seats in November.

O'Donnell, a retired Ellicott City business executive, filed papers to withdraw from the race Tuesday, the deadline to pull out, said Evelyn M. Purcell, the acting director of the Howard County Board of Elections. O'Donnell was running for re-election after being appointed in 2001 to fill a vacancy on the five-member school board.

The remaining candidates - Frank Aquino, Diane Mikulis and Mary Kay Sigaty - will vie for O'Donnell's seat and that of Sandra H. French, who is leaving the board after almost 12 years. Their terms expire in December.

O'Donnell, 67, described his decision to drop out as a realistic move after reflecting on the school board's performance and taking responsibility for his part in it.

"If you look back at five or six years ago, the school system has been hit with one problem, one embarrassment after another," O'Donnell said. "In the almost 2 1/2 years I've been on the board, that pattern of problems continued. Really, not being a viable candidate, I really didn't think it was right for me to have supporters asking people to endorse me when I'm really not happy with the track record the board has put up."

School board adopts drug policy revisions

The Howard County Board of Education adopted revisions Thursday night to the school system's drug and alcohol policy that will reduce the 70-day suspension from extracurricular activities for a first-time use or possession offense.

But the changes will not become effective until Oct. 1 because board members could not agree on the number of days a first-time offender would be excluded from extracurricular activities. The board directed Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin to recommend a fixed number of days up to 30 for suspension.

Courtney Watson, chairman of the school board, said she hopes the new policy and procedures will be in place by mid-September. In the meantime, the current drug and alcohol policy will stand.

The school board also approved a $75,000 consulting contract for Kimberly A. Statham, who is stepping down today as chief academic officer. Board members Joshua Kaufman and Watson opposed the contract, which expires June 30.

Statham, had been accused of abusing her power by intimidating school staff members to obtain preferential treatment for her daughter, a student at Centennial High School. In May, the school board unanimously exonerated Statham in the alleged grade tampering.

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