A time of change for school board

March 18, 2007|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,SUN REPORTER

The board that oversees Howard County's top-ranked school system is getting a makeover.

For one thing, the board has expanded.

Because of growing enrollment, the board grew from four members to seven in November. County Executive Ken Ulman named a pediatrician to fill the seventh seat.

Dr. Janet Siddiqui, 45, a mother of three from Clarksville, whose nomination was approved by the County Council on March 5, replaces Mary Kay Sigaty, who won a County Council seat in November after serving half her term on the board. Courtney Watson, the former school board chairman, also was elected to the council. She had completed her four-year school board term.

Siddiqui was the sixth-highest vote-getter in the November election, finishing 1,149 votes behind Ellen Flynn Giles. The top five were elected to the board.

Siddiqui, who has lived in Howard County for 20 years with her husband, Nayab, has been a member of the PTA, the school system's Anti-Bullying Task Force and the Community Advisory Council. In October 2005, she also was appointed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to the Patuxent River Commission.

She has worked for Johns Hopkins Community Physicians for 11 years and is a part-time faculty member at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She also volunteers at a free health clinic in Montgomery County.

Siddiqui joins newcomers Frank Aquino, an attorney and general counsel for an environmental consulting and engineering company; Larry Cohen, a retired school system administrator; Sandra H. French, a retired educator, former chairman of the board and a substitute teacher in county secondary schools; and Giles, a senior editor and analyst with Platts, a division of McGraw-Hill Co., who has been a fixture on PTAs and systemwide committees for 22 years.

Diane Mikulis, the board chairman, is completing the third year of a four-year term. Patricia S. Gordon, the board's first elected black member, was also re-elected in November.

"I'm just very happy with the whole climate of the board," Mikulis said. "We're all doing our homework, and we want to make the right decisions. It shows with the kinds of questions we ask in meetings."

Mary Jane Barbato-Grauso, president of the Howard County PTA Council, said she is looking forward to working with the board.

"I think they are doing well," she said. "I think they bring a nice diversity. They represent different perspectives."

Ann DeLacy, president of the Howard County Education Association, said it was too soon to judge the performance of the new board.

"They are new into their term," said DeLacy, whose union represents 5,500 employees. "I think they are doing a good job. They are listening, and they seem to be getting along."

Next year, the board could have an eighth voting member.

Legislation to give the board's student member a vote is pending in the Maryland General Assembly.

The bill would allow the student member to vote on site acquisitions; condemnation; consolidation; architect selection; appointment and salary of the superintendent; collective bargaining issues; employee discipline and other appeals; appointments; the capital and operating budgets; and student suspensions and expulsions.

The bill also addresses how the student member would affect the voting dynamic of the board. When the student member votes, five votes would be necessary to pass an item; four votes would be needed without the student member.

Mikulis said she is excited about the prospect of the student member having a vote.

"I think the board needs to better pull the student into the process, making sure that he or she has access to the right information," Mikulis said.

Even the school system's board room has received a makeover.

A $365,000 renovation project has expanded the Board of Education's boardroom to accommodate the larger panel.

Additional seating has been added in front of the board. That area is occupied by top system personnel.

The new room also includes four 60-inch flat-screen plasma monitors that allow board members and the audience to view presentations and videos.

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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