Board of Education candidates display similarities on issues

Three vying for a pair of open seats speak at a forum in Ellicott City

October 14, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Three Howard County school board candidates vying for two seats outlined similar goals for the state's top-performing district during a two-hour forum last night sponsored by the county's League of Women Voters and PTA Council.

Frank Aquino, Diane Mikulis and Mary Kay Sigaty are running for a Board of Education seat for the first time and bring similar experiences, having served on numerous school committees and PTAs. Each has or had children in the school system.

At the forum in Ellicott City, those commonalities were reflected in the slight differences in answering questions on topics, including student achievement, board governance, and attracting and retaining highly qualified teachers.

The three candidates said they want students at all levels to succeed, and they believe the school system can meet state standards.

They also feel the county can eliminate the minority achievement gap by 2007 - ahead of the 2014 deadline set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

"We are working hard at it, and our children are working hard at it," said Sigaty, a former teacher whose two children graduated from the school system, the youngest in June.

At the same time, standards set by the No Child Left Behind Act are arbitrary and should be seriously considered for repeal, Sigaty said.

The candidates answered several questions on board governance, including whether they support hiring an ombudsman, which the school board is looking to do by the end of the year, and giving the student board member the right to vote.

Aquino, a business attorney from Ellicott City with three children in the school system, said the school board's action in creating an ombudsman position "shows sensitivity to the community."

He said he would like to see this person assist the board in identifying problems that are not being solved.

Mikulis, a former free-lance community correspondent for The Sun with 17 years of business experience, said she was not sure whether the ombudsman should report to the board or the superintendent, but that an ombudsman should be able to identify repeated issues or concerns.

Sigaty, however, expressed concern that the position was brought up after the budget for this fiscal year had been approved.

Each candidate supported giving the student board member voting rights.

Sigaty went further, saying that the student member should be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses and compensated for the yearlong work, perhaps through a college scholarship.

With negotiations for a new teacher contract coming up later this year, the candidates said the Howard school system should be a top employer for teachers.

Besides salaries and benefits, Aquino said, the school system must focus on factors such as working conditions and crowded classrooms.

"We need to remain competitive," he said.

Mikulis said salaries should be competitive at all levels and not just for new hires.

Sigaty said the school system should look at offering benefits for domestic partners and increasing tuition reimbursement for continuing education.

In late August, board member James P. O'Donnell dropped out of the race, saying he was taking responsibility for the failures of the board.

O'Donnell was running for re-election after being appointed in 2001 to fill a vacancy on the five-member school board.

O'Donnell's term and that of Sandra H. French, who is leaving the board after almost 12 years, expire in December.

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