Winners of 6-person race for 3 seats on school panel face rapid transition

November 02, 2008|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,

Long meetings filled with debates over policy. Redistricting battles. Student and employee grievances.

Oh, and the budget process.

The three people elected to the Howard County school board Tuesday will need to hit the ground running, Chairman Frank Aquino said. Fortunately for newcomers, there is an orientation that can help them be ready for their first official meeting Dec. 1.

There is a "laundry list" of steps to take, aimed at helping new members make a seamless transition, Aquino said.

"Our intention is to make the transition very smooth so that they can be productive board members by the first meeting," he said. "We want any new board member ready to go when they come on board."

Six candidates are vying for three spots in Tuesday's election.

Incumbents Janet Siddiqui and Ellen Flynn Giles are seeking to keep their seats, while Allen Dyer and University of Maryland student Di Zou are running again after mounting unsuccessful bids in 2006. Newcomers Diane Butler and Betsy Grater, both of Ellicott City, round out the field.

They would join Aquino and other sitting board members Sandra H. French, Patricia Gordon, Larry Cohen and Diane Mikulis, along with student member Adejire Bademosi.

Siddiqui, a pediatrician from Clarksville, was appointed to the board in January by County Executive Ken Ulman. She was the top finisher among seven candidates in February's primary election with 20 percent of the vote.

Giles, an editor and analyst for an energy trade publisher, is the board's vice chairwoman and lives in Scaggsville. She finished fifth in the 2006 election and received a two-year term instead of the standard four years. The term was shortened so that no more than four seats would be up for election in any one year.

Butler, vice president of the St. John's Lane Community Association after serving four years as president, has said that she wants to increase academic rigor in the classroom. Butler, who said she home-schools her daughter out of concern over the quality of county schools, wants to increase the focus on math and science.

Grater, a retired bed-and-breakfast owner, has said she decided in December to run when she learned there was a lack of candidates. Grater, who has three grandchildren who attend county schools, was a school board member in Raleigh, N.C., in 1971.

Dyer, of Ellicott City, has been a fixture in school matters for years. In 2000, he sued the school board in Circuit Court for what he said were multiple violations of the state's Open Meetings Act. As a result, legislation was 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.

During the 2006 election, Dyer joined forces with Zou, of Glenwood. The pair wanted to bring back vocational education to local schools, provide more information technology training and provide online access to information that is public.

The Baltimore Sun asked each candidate to respond to the following question: In light of the current economic climate, how would you identify a recurring funding source for the school system's budget needs?

Diane Butler

* Age 54

* Community advocate, teacher

* Ellicott City

Fiscally responsible budgeting will help Howard County in light of the current economic climate. Most of our school funding in Howard County comes from our general obligation bonds. The county government must approve our bond initiatives as the Board of Education has no fundraising capabilities of its own, by law. Therefore the need for the county to work together with the school board is immense. Our county taxes and assessed property values are the highest in the state and close to the highest in the country. This should be enough to fund our schools. We need to manage our budget properly and then live within that budget.

We also get state funding in the form of shared-use contributions. I seem to remember our state taxes being raised again recently. I think that if the state is going to mandate programs for the county, then the state needs to make sure that they are funded.

We need to be prudent gardeners in trimming our budget to help our system flourish and grow.

Allen Dyer

* Age 61

* Attorney, computer consultant

* Ellicott City

After decades of expansion, Howard County's excellent public school system faces aging school buildings that are increasingly expensive to maintain and heat. Unfortunately, no dedicated revenue source is currently available to allow replacement of our aging schools with environmentally friendly "green" schools that can be efficiently operated and maintained.

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