Lemle assumes role of HCEA president

He moves into the post as the union recently ratified new contract

August 04, 2011|By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun

When Paul Lemle ran for president of the Howard County Education Association, he gave himself a scant shot at winning. Instead, he figured he would introduce himself to the community for future elections while publicly encouraging other candidates to be involved in the county's schools and to understand the community's concerns.

His message came across so well that the electorate decided to vote for the messenger.

And now Lemle presides over a 4,400-member union that includes teachers, counselors, secretaries, clerks, registrars and central office employees. He assumed his two-year term in early July, stepping down from his position as government/law teacher at Wilde Lake High School.

"The voters didn't subscribe to my plan that I would do this in two years or four years," said Lemle, 39, who had served as the HCEA's government relations chair, which handles the interactions between the association and elected officials and coordinated the group's lobbying at the State House.

"When you're running a campaign you never know you're going to win, but it was surprising," said Lemle. "I didn't know our members thought I could do the job."

Lemle is taking over for Ann De Lacy, who served as the union's president for six years.

He assumes office as the HCEA and the Howard school board reached a tentative contract agreement that the union subsequently ratified. The agreement came after the two sides reached a stalemate in negotiations in May. The school board is expected to vote on ratifying the tentative agreement this month.

Howard County Superintendent Sydney Cousin said in a prepared statement that the agreement is reasonable considering current economic problems and added that the school system avoided layoffs and furloughs.

Lemle echoed those sentiments last week in an interview in his Ellicott City office and said it's among the reasons why the school system's reputation is well deserved.

"Howard County is a great place for educators to work," said Lemle. "We have the resources. This place funds its schools right, it builds its schools right and it pays the educators right. Obviously we would want that to be better, but the truth is that for an educator, this is a great place to be.

"The families in the school system support their kids," Lemle said. "They're active. They take part in the extracurriculars. It's worth saying that success breeds success, and the history of this school system is that it's a good one."

Lemle said that the school system faces similar challenges of school systems across the country: providing quality education for all of its students as classes become more diverse racially, culturally and socioeconomically.

"How do you educate everyone at that same high standard?" Lemle said. "The school system is about 14.5 percent students who receive free and reduced[-price meals]. That's a high number for a suburban school district. We have some students in poverty. The challenges facing them are the reverse of our upsides; their parents are going to work that second job and not be as available to provide that homework help."

He takes over the educators union at a time when white students have become the majority minority in the school system, redistricting plans are being considered and County Executive Ken Ulman recently announced that he is forming a commission to study the structure of the elected school board after residents raised concerns about its racial and geographical makeup. It includes one minority and no residents from Columbia or Elkridge.

Lemle, the father of two adopted sons from Ethiopia, said that he has often heard the same concerns from parents about the school system's educators. "The truth is, I'm not sure the best way to address it," Lemle said. "I obviously want a diverse workforce; it's a cliche but the marketplace of ideas is real. Students benefit from seeing and learning from diverse staff. But I don't know how the school system addresses diversity in hiring."

Lemle also said that he and other educators are closely observing the controversy surrounding the school board, which recently voted to oust fellow member Allen Dyer.

"The board does policy and their policy very much affects all the educators," Lemle said, "but I'm not sure when what seems like their personal inability to get along will start affecting their work, if it hasn't. My hope is that they can figure out a way to put their disagreements aside and do their work."


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