For the school board chairman, adopting a new wellness policy is a no-win situation



Joshua Kaufman knows that the Board of Education is in a no-win situation when it adopts a wellness policy next month.

"Whatever you do, you will have a negative effect," the board chairman said of the coming decision on a policy that will cover everything from snack food to physical education classes.

Although fewer than 20 people testified about the latest version Thursday night, Kaufman knows the struggle that board members will face in coming weeks as they review hundreds of e-mail messages and written testimony on the system's policy, set for an April 23 vote.

"The board will have a lot to do," he said.

The public is polarized on the subject. Some favor a more rigid policy that essentially would end the sale of candy and limit the sale of soda during and after school. Others say regulating food and drink will affect fundraising, teaching and morale.

Thursday night's hearing added another wrinkle. Previous testimony has focused on the food aspect of the policy. However, much of the testimony focused on the policy's physical education component.

Kathy Eckley, who chairs the health and fitness committee at Swansfield Elementary School, compared childhood obesity to a tsunami.

"We can be proactive and run ahead of the wave, ... or we can get swept away and suffer the physical, emotional and economic consequences of an unhealthy society," Eckley said.

She said that middle and high school students do not receive enough physical education.

The revised policy states that schools will provide physical activity for students. How much physical activity and when it will be provided are areas that are not spelled out.

Four members of the PTA Council of Howard County also addressed the board and expressed displeasure with the policy.

"The policy is well-intended," said Mary Jane Barbato-Grauso, president of the council. "We continue to have some concerns about the proposed policy's implementation, content and impact."

Barbato-Grauso went on to say that the council objects to what it sees as a lack of emphasis on physical activity in the curriculum; too little attention to the nutritional value/quality of food served during the lunch break; and going too far in legislating food guidelines during the school day, which referred to students not being able to bring in food until after the last lunch period.

Naming a school

If a 13-member naming committee has its way, Dayton Oaks Elementary School will be the name given to the elementary scheduled to open this fall in western Howard County.

Selection of the name is the last step in a long process by the committee, said Mark Stout, its co-chairman and coordinator for secondary social studies.

"We begin in the fall, and we start collecting information from the community and our schools," said Stout, who also is the committee's historian. "Our primary goal is to make sure that we are fair and that everybody has the opportunity to have their opinion shared."

The committee, which is made up of administrators and parents from feeder schools, collected input from pupils and community members before it formed a list of names, which must meet certain criteria.

"The intent is to name schools after geographic features in the county," he said. "We try to avoid naming schools after other schools. Oftentimes, the mail gets mixed up between two schools."

The committee also avoids naming schools after historical figures, Stout said.

After collecting names from pupils and citizens, the committee had a list of about 40, Stout said. Among them: Star Shine, Orion, Ten Oaks, Dayton, Greenbridge, Silver Maple, Altogether and Hobbs Hill.

The committee whittled the list to seven schools and chose Dayton Oaks through a weighted voting method. Ten Oaks was the second choice, and Dayton was third.

A public hearing will be held April 6. The board is to make a final decision April 27.

Business of transition

As the school board makes the transition to seven members in December, several changes are becoming more apparent, including formation of the board's first auditing committee, which was named Thursday.

Vice Chairman Diane Mikulis and Patricia Gordon were unanimously approved by the board and will begin working with John J. Connors, the system's newly hired internal auditor.

Mikulis, who is the only current member guaranteed to remain on the board after the November election, said she was chosen to provide stability.

Mary Kay Sigaty, who has two years remaining on her board term, said she will seek a County Council seat. If she wins, she will resign from the board.

"I have worked on this since it [hiring an auditor] got started," Mikulis said. "I can bring consistency."

When the board expands from five to seven members, a third member will be added to the committee, Mikulis said. Having three members would represent a quorum with the board's current size, she said.

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