Changes in store for school board

Expansion, elections likely to spur `healthy growing pains'

Howard Education


Redistricting and capital projects are not the only effects of growth in Howard County. The Board of Education will have to do its own adjusting when it expands from five to seven members in December.

As enrollment approaches 50,000 students - a result of maintaining a top-rated system, board members say - the board is required by the state to expand.

"It's a case of healthy growing pains," said board member Courtney Watson. "It's really necessary and productive in the long run."

Adding two members will change the dynamic of the panel, which has forced the board to explore a committee system.

Board members say the committee system would allow them to be well-versed in a variety of topics.

"It will mean that we will have a more informed board," said Joshua Kaufman, who plans to serve on the board's audit committee.

"We're trying to set this up so that it's not so much work," Watson said.

Depending on the results of this political year, the board could look completely different in December, when the new members are officially sworn in. In fact, there is a chance that only one current board member - Vice Chairman Diane Mikulis - could be on the panel after the November election.

Of the current five board members, Mikulis and Mary Kay Sigaty have terms that expire in 2008.

However, Sigaty has said that she will run for the County Council and that if she wins that position, she will leave her seat on the board.

Patricia Gordon and Kaufman are running for re-election, and Watson, who will also run for County Council, will leave her seat when her term expires this year.

"I think potentially there will be a challenge with significant turnover, but it depends on who is elected," Kaufman said. "There are candidates who would have a very quick acclimation to the board because they are already so involved and so deep in the board."

Candidates who have filed paperwork with the Howard County Board of Elections include Kaufman; Tony Yount, a retired system administrator; Di Zou, a senior at Glenelg High School; and resident Carmen L. Harmon.

Others, including Gordon; Frank Aquino, who ran in 2004; retiring system employee Larry Cohen; and student activist Ellen Flynn Giles have announced their intention to run for the board but have not submitted the paperwork.

Applicants have until July 3 to file for the election.

Kaufman welcomes new members: "With additional members you will have additional skills and perspectives."

The board is also coming up with ways for new members to make a smooth transition to the panel.

A February session, "What It's Like to be a Board Member," allowed participants to listen to former and current board members talk about life on the board.

Board members talked about everything from pay ($12,000 a year) to number of hours worked in a week (about 30 to 60).

Sigaty and Mikulis are devising an orientation for new board members.

"We have identified the important things that board members need to know, basing it on our own personal experiences," Sigaty said. "We want to offer training modules that can be offered over a period of time."

Some of the training topics are collective bargaining, the budget and open-meetings policy.

A to-do list will also be given to candidates informing them of necessary tasks, from getting business cards to signing up for the school system e-mail.

"We thought it would be very friendly that new members had these things spelled out so that they wouldn't forget anything," Sigaty said.

The information will be disseminated through pamphlets and training sessions after the November election and before the new board members join the panel in December.

Another issue during this election year is whether the board's student member will get voting rights.

Supporters of student-member voting rights had hoped that legislation would be introduced as early as January to ensure that the student member could vote when the board expands in December.

But a two-hour board meeting in November resulted in a delay and formation of a 10-member committee with the charge of considering details, including who would elect the student member, legal ramifications of giving the student member a vote and the power that the student member would possess.

Jeff Lasser, the current student member on the board, said the committee has met four times this year.

Lasser added that he is confident that enough work will be finished in time to make a presentation to the board next month, which could allow the next student board member to have a vote in 2007.

The committee has brainstormed about details of voting procedures needed to elect a student member.

Lasser said the committee also is interested in producing an explanatory videotape about the candidates so that students can be more informed about the voting process.

Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties and Baltimore City are among Maryland school systems that have student members with voting rights.

Lasser recently spoke to system officials in Carroll County about that county's student voting issue.

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