School board election provides another test for Elkridge-area candidates

June 22, 2014|By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun

Four candidates in the Howard County Board of Education primary election hail from the county's northeast region, an area that historically has been devoid of board representation.

Olga Butler and Corey Andrews of Elkridge, and Leslie Kornreich and Christine O'Connor of Hanover each ran in the previous election, and Kornreich has run twice. They are among 13 candidates vying for four seats on the seven-member board.

The board is non-partisan and members serve at large. Candidates from other areas of the county are Bess Altwerger of Columbia; Tom Baek and Cynthia L. Vaillancourt of Clarksville; Dan Furman of Simpsonville; and Zaneb Beams, Allen Dyer, Maureen Evans Arthurs, Sandra French and Mike Smith, all of Ellicott City.

"Of course, a Board of Education member must focus on the needs of the entire county," said Kornreich, "but it would be really nice to have someone from our geographic area on the Board of Education who has personal experience with some of the problems that have plagued this part of the county for many years."

Kornreich, in her third run for school board, dubbed the corridor "the epicenter for high density residential development" in the county and argued that many of the overcrowding concerns experienced in the eastern portion of the county might spill to the west if not addressed properly.

O'Connor said that while she hopes to gain a spot on the board, she believes "since the board is not an individualized situation, I do not believe having someone from our area is a necessity." But she added, "It would be nice, though."

Butler said the school board should not just include a member from the U.S. 1 corridor but that it should reflect the county's diversity. "Here in the east we have a dense and diverse population," she said.

Three years ago, County Executive Ken Ulman launched the School Board Study Commission to examine issues of geographic and diversity among members of the Howard County Board of Education.

Commission findings showed that not only had there been scant representation from the northeast section of the county, but for much of its area east of U.S. 29. The study commenced at a time when none of the seven board members resided in either Elkridge or Columbia, its largest jurisdiction.

Since the election process for Howard County school board began, 15 people had been selected by voters to serve on the Board of Education when the report was made. "Of that number, 73 percent have resided west of Route 29, a traditional boundary that delineates the county's population into eastern and western halves. Just four school board members have resided east of the boundary," the report said.

Ulman and state Del. Frank Turner later supported a measure that would transform the school board from its current seven-member, at-large, elected format to one with five members elected by district and two at-large appointments. The bill was withdrawn amid opposition from county residents.

Ulman said, "I have long believed that diversity is a valuable component for the Board of Education, and that includes geographic diversity."

Elkridge, according to the county's Department of Planning and Zoning, has its third largest regional planning district (14.2 percent of the county's total household population) behind Columbia and Ellicott City, respectively.

"I believe the reason that there has not been a person elected from this part of the county to the Board of Education is that there is not enough awareness in general about who the candidates are," Kornreich said. "Since the Board of Education is a countywide race, it is truly an uphill battle to get your name out around the entire county.

Howard County Board of Elections director Guy Mickley said the county's voter pool corresponds with its population density: Columbia, the largest area, makes up the largest tally, followed by Ellicott City, the second largest. Other jurisdictions making up sizable portions of the voter pool are Elkridge, Savage, Laurel and Clarksville, he said.

The largest percentages of registered voters within a jurisdiction that turnout for an election come from the western part of the county — Lisbon, Glenwood and Glenelg, Mickley said. Those jurisdictions comprise smaller numbers than those in the eastern part of the county, Mickley said.

Still, Mickley said voter density or region still does not predict which candidates will be chosen for office. Some areas within a region have much larger voter turnout than other areas within the region, he said.

"We've done statistics analysis in the office on voter turnout by precinct, and there is no rhyme or reason as to where voters turnout on election day," said Mickley.

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