Board hopefuls declare strengths

Candidates describe experience and vision they would bring to county school system

Maryland Votes 2006

October 22, 2006|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,Sun reporter

Ask any of the 10 Board of Education candidates what the pressing issues are and most agree on redistricting, student performance and aging schools.

But to solve those and other problems, each candidate will bring a different approach based on his of her experience, which varies with age, occupation and previous involvement with school-related issues.

No matter who is elected Nov. 7, one thing is for sure: It will be a drastically different board as new members step in and the panel increases from five to seven members. Diane Mikulis is the only one guaranteed to return to the board. The current vice chairman's term ends in 2008.

Members Joshua Kaufman and Patricia S. Gordon are among the candidates battling for five positions. Member Mary Kay Sigaty, whose term expires in 2008, is running for the County Council in District 4 and plans to leave her board seat if she wins. And member Courtney Watson, who is running for the County Council in District 1, will leave her position when her term expires this year.

The group of board hopefuls started at 16. Two candidates dropped out, and four others were eliminated in the Sept. 12 primary. After months of campaigning, the candidates were asked by The Sun what distinguished them from their opponents.

Frank Aquino

Frank Aquino, 48, an attorney and general counsel for an environmental consulting and engineering company, said his work experience, school system involvement and experience as a parent distinguish him.

"I have experience on both the local school level and countywide," Aquino said. "I've been on the boundary line committee twice and the operating budget review committee three times. I think I understand the education concerns of the Howard County community.

"As a result of the all of my experience, I will hit the ground running," Aquino said. "I don't think the learning curve will be that great for me."

Aquino, the top vote-getter in the primary, called for and subsequently prompted the school system to recently adopt a civility policy.

"I saw the need for setting the bar for intercommunication among all of the stakeholders," Aquino said.

Aquino, whose three children attend county schools, said he supports board members' maintaining regular office hours in order to meet with residents.

"I see myself as a consensus builder who is able to bring those skills to the board," he said. "I want to make sure the board works efficiently and effectively."

Larry Cohen

Larry Cohen, 56, said his experience as a principal, assistant principal, administrative liaison, pupil personnel worker and teacher sets him apart.

"I think I have a sense of knowledge about what it takes to run an efficient school system," said Cohen, who is retired. "Everybody who is running for the school board cares about the school system. But I've been part of the school system and I have a knowledge of what is important to maintain the school system and take it to the next level."

Cohen said the most important issue facing the system is its ability to provide the resources necessary to enable all students to pass the High School Assessments and thereby eliminate the achievement gaps among student groups.

"We have an obligation to do best for all kids," Cohen said. "We are a public service. We provide opportunity for kids to be successful with the different skills and talents that they have. We are not a product, and we are not an assembly line. We have to look at each kid as an individual."

Allen Dyer

Allen Dyer, 59, a computer consultant and lawyer, has made his presence felt during the campaign.

Most recently, Dyer challenged the decision by the current board to move toward a committee system. Dyer thinks the committee system violates the Open Meetings Act.

In November 2000, Dyer sued the Board of Education in 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.

Dyer also represented four residents questioning potential water contamination and other environmental concerns in connection with a 400-seat addition at Glenelg High School. An administrative judge ruled against Dyer's clients in that case.

"I believe in a transparent system that permits all shareholders to participate in the development of the system," Dyer said.

Dyer said he also believes in vocational education at local schools; providing more information technology training and support; establishing a feeder-school system; and providing public information online that is supported by the Open Meetings Act.

Dyer and fellow candidate Di Zou have formed an alliance. Dyer said they share similar views and concerns.

"We're independent and we have new ideas," Dyer said. "We're not plain vanilla."

Sandra French

Sandra H. French, 62, a retired educator, former chairman of the school board and now a substitute teacher in county secondary schools, said she has the practical experience necessary to serve.

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