After months of anticipation, the Howard County Board of Education finally is whole.
Janet Siddiqui, 45, a pediatrician from Clarksville, attended her first meeting Thursday as a member of the school board.
The addition of Siddiqui completes the board's expansion to seven members from five.
Siddiqui replaces Mary Kay Sigaty, who left her position early after winning a County Council seat in November.
County Executive Ken Ulman announced in January that he had selected Siddiqui to fill Sigaty's vacant seat; the County Council confirmed her appointment March 5.
Siddiqui was a natural choice because she barely missed being elected to the board in November, finishing sixth among candidates vying for five open seats.
Siddiqui, who called the position an "honor," said she had been watching school board meetings on television to keep abreast of the issues.
"It's going as well as expected," Siddiqui said after last week's board session. "I had a lot [of information] to go through. There is a learning curve."
During a brief speech at the beginning of the board meeting, she highlighted the health and wellness of students and the achievement gap as among the most pressing issues in the school system. She said later that she intended to begin visiting schools.
Ulman, who attended the board meeting, said he is proud of Siddiqui.
"I think that you will be a wonderful addition to the board," he said.
Sigaty, who also attended Siddiqui's first meeting as a board member, said she is confident that her successor will do a great job. "I'm certain she will," Sigaty said.
With the addition of Siddiqui, the school board will be able to complete training, form committees and assign clusters of schools to each member, according to Diane Mikulis, the board chairman.
Mikulis said that board members had jokingly referred to Siddiqui, the board's seventh member, as No. 7.
"We're very, very glad to have Janet," Mikulis said. "We felt incomplete."
With Ulman in attendance at Thursday's school board meeting, Mikulis could not resist the opportunity to throw in a plug for the school system's pending capital and operating budgets.
Shortly after Ulman voiced his confidence in Siddiqui, Mikulis thanked him for attending the meeting.
She then added: "We hope we can thank you very, very much in a few months."
The crowd laughed, and Ulman responded: "Good lobbying."
The Board of Education unanimously approved a record $714.9 million for the 2008 operating and capital budgets on Feb. 27.
The $615.3 million operating budget includes $13.8 million to add 256 teachers; a $9.7 million increase for employee health insurance; $2.5 million to add full-day kindergarten to 11 schools; $300,000 for a 2 percent pay increase for bus drivers; 13 new custodians to address the needs of older schools; and 12 new technology employees to allow the system to become more self-sufficient.
The capital budget includes $11.7 million to expand full-day kindergarten at nine schools; $10.9 million for a new auditorium and renovation at Glenelg High School; $18.9 million for a comprehensive renovation at Mount Hebron High School; and $32.1 million for renovations at Clarksville Middle School and Waterloo, Clemens Crossing and Worthington elementary schools.
Ulman has until April 15 to make cuts to the budgets.
The County Council will have until May to give final approval. Council members can restore any funding that the executive removes - if they can find a way to pay for it.
Defending a title
River Hill High School's chapter of the Future Business Leaders of America recently took the first step in defending its state title with a win at the 2007 Region IIC Leadership Conference held at Chesapeake High School in Pasadena.
River Hill's 87-member team placed first and defeated 15 schools in the process. In addition to the team title, 17 students placed first, 17 placed second and 12 placed third in 31 events.
Now, the school will attempt to win its fourth straight state title. A win at the March 22 state championship in Hagerstown would be the school's sixth in seven years.
Last year, the conference attracted 700 students from across the state.
At the conference, students will take part in 50 events, including oral competitions and written tests on business law and accounting.