Proposal of school board committees brings tension

education notebook

October 15, 2006|By John-John Williams IV

It is supposed to be a fast, efficient way to conduct business. But setting up a committee system has already become a source of conflict between current Howard County Board of Education members and several candidates vying for spots on the decision-making panel this November.

The clash might be a glimpse of tensions to come as the board undergoes turnover in next month's election and expands to seven members at the end of this year.

According to several candidates, the controversy started when board hopeful Allen Dyer questioned the legality of the system a few weeks ago.

"I see red flags," said Dyer, who has raised concerns over possible quorum violations. "There are compliance problems. Boards of education consistently have the most trouble with open meeting acts."

Dyer is no stranger to challenging the school system -- especially when it comes to board procedures. In November 2000, he sued the school board in Howard County Circuit Court for what he said were multiple violations of the state's Open Meetings Act. As a result, legislation was introduced and passed to strengthen enforcement of the law.

Under the board's proposed committee system, members would divide into committees that cover a variety of subjects, including finance, audit, and budget; policy, curriculum and strategic planning; and facilities and school planning.

The committees would be required to meet separately from scheduled board meetings and, eventually, share their minutes with remaining board members.

Chairman Joshua Kaufman said that the committee system follows the Open Meetings Act. He added that the proposed committee policy is based on a year of research that involved board members contacting several school systems that currently use the committee system.

"We go beyond what the law requires," Kaufman said.

The proposed committee system will make the board's expansion easier and more efficient, according to current board members. The committee system will also enable them to be well-versed in a variety of topics, board members have said.

The committee system -- which Kaufman said should be adopted and in place by the time the new board is determined -- can be used by the new board, current members say.

But Dyer favors having the newly elected board decide on the panel's operating procedures.

"I think the people expect that board to determine how they do business," he said.

Superintendent hurt

School Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin will be out of work for the next two weeks after fracturing a vertebra in a single-car accident in Marriottsville last weekend.

Cousin was heading to the barber shop Oct. 7 when his car began to hydroplane, then skidded into a ditch and struck a tree. Cousin's car was totaled.

The accident aggravated a back injury that Cousin suffered in another car accident in 2003. That injury resulted in Cousin's having back surgery that involved a partial disk removal.

"I've never really recovered from that," said Cousin, who will work from his home while he heals.

Cousin said the injury will take about six weeks to heal. He expects to be out of the office for at least the next two weeks.

He regrets having to take time out to recover. "There are many things that I want to be present for," Cousin said. "I also know that I need to get my body healed before I can work at the high level that this job demands."

The school board chairman has encouraged Cousin not to hurry his recovery.

"I'm telling him if he can work from home and be comfortable, he shouldn't rush in," Kaufman said.

Traffic light coming

It's potentially dangerous and in need of attention and, according to the State Highway Administration, the intersection located near Marriotts Ridge High School will receive a traffic light this spring.

The announcement of the light, which will be installed at Route 99 and Woodford Drive, follows a series of complaints and accidents near the school.

"It is incredibly important to have that comfort level," Principal Pat Saunderson said about the light. "It seems like a little thing, but it is incredibly important to our community."

Saunderson said that this school year there have been two three-car accidents at the intersection -- including one Friday morning.

"That road is a tough area," he said. "For a school zone, it is a little scary with new drivers."

Saunderson was quick to point out that none of the accidents has involved his students.

"So far, our students have been very good about following the rules of the road and school policies," he said.

Hispanic heritage

From morning announcements to school projects that have been displayed throughout the building, the Folly Quarter Middle School community has done something each day this month in observance of National Hispanic Heritage Month.

Tomorrow the school will hold two assemblies that will highlight traditional Peruvian folk dancing. The first assembly begins at 8 a.m. The second begins at 9:20 a.m. All are welcome to attend the free assemblies, according to Loraine McLarty, a health education teacher at the school.

McLarty said that teachers in the school have spent the month linking education tidbits relating to Hispanic history and core subjects. For example, traditional Hispanic music has been played in the school in the mornings and some students watched the movie Stand And Deliver, based on the true story of Latino students involved in a pioneering calculus project at a Los Angeles high school.

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