School board measure gets delegation nod

Would allow panel to probe superintendent staff issues

Howard County

General Assembly

February 17, 2005|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A bill that would allow the Howard County school board to investigate controversies involving the school superintendent's staff was overwhelmingly approved by the county's state legislators yesterday in Annapolis.

Consideration of two other bills was postponed until next week. One proposes a property tax break for people age 65 or older who have lived in the same house for at least 20 years, and the other would create a county revenue authority.

The school board bill, sponsored by Republican Del. Warren E. Miller, won support from all three senators and five of the eight delegates after an amendment was added to give the school board the choice of initiating an inquiry.

"We definitely wanted the bill because it gives us the ability to step in if we feel we need to. We may not ever need to use it," said Courtney Watson, the school board chairman.

The bill was proposed because of a grade-changing controversy at Centennial High School during the 2003-2004 school year that involved two high-ranking school administrators who worked directly for John R. O'Rourke, then superintendent.

"Our hands were completely tied," Watson said. "We had a community in an uproar, the school system in an uproar and we had no way to step in."

The board could not investigate because it is required to hear appeals of disciplinary decisions made by the superintendent.

Under Miller's bill, the board would have authority to investigate the disputes, and any appeal would be heard by another county's school board. Roger L. Plunkett, an assistant superintendent, attended the delegation meeting yesterday and told the legislators that Miller's bill is being watched by school boards statewide.

"It's really breaking new ground," Watson said.

Only Dels. Elizabeth Bobo and Frank S. Turner, both Democrats, voted against the bill.

"This is a whole new concept to me," said Bobo, who said she would need more time to consider it. Turner said it should be done as statewide legislation.

Bills affecting one county are usually approved by the entire General Assembly as a matter of courtesy. If enacted, Miller's bill will take effect in October.

In other action, the legislators approved a bill that would place county deputy sheriffs under the Police Officer's Bill of Rights, which would give them civil service-style job protection.

A third bill that would give the Howard County Education Association the right to impose fees on nonmembers to help pay for union representation they receive was defeated.

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