Linfeng Chen and Jacky McCoy were sworn in Monday as the Howard County Board of Education’s two new at-large members as applause from family, friends and school staff filled the boardroom.
Hours later, Chen and McCoy joined a majority of board members in casting a largely symbolic vote to oppose proposed state legislation that would alter the all-elected school board model to include two members recommended by the Howard County state delegation and appointed by the county executive.
In remarks following their oaths of office, Chen and McCoy thanked their family and constituents and pledged to follow through on campaign promises.
“Now it’s time to put the election behind and unite together for our common goal – high-quality public education for all students,” said Chen, of North Laurel, an engineer who along with McCoy finished ahead of candidates Dan Newberger and Tudy Adler in the board election.
During her remarks, McCoy, a former Long Reach High School teacher and Columbia resident who co-founded the community-building group Changing the Lens, stressed the need to make the school system work for all students.
“Everything that I do is going to be about the children; I have absolutely no other agenda,” she said. “Whatever happens, and I have anything to do with it, it’s going to center the children ... the families and teachers, because that triad is what’s going to make this thing work.”
Immediately following the swearing-in, Antonia Watts and Yun Lu were unanimously elected chair and vice chair of the board. Watts, who has worked in education since 2011 and represents District 2, served as vice chair this year. In addition to serving as a spokesperson for the board, the chair is the presiding officer at all board meetings and sets the agenda with the superintendent, according to the school board handbook.
Toward the end of Monday’s meeting, the board debated the proposal by Howard County delegation chairs Sen. Clarence Lam and Del. Courtney Watson to have two members appointed to the school board.
The Howard school board has seven elected members – two at-large and five representing County Council districts – as well as a student member, who is elected by middle and high school students and votes on all issues except those pertaining to budgets, personnel or other restricted matters.
Lam and Watson’s legislation, filed in November, would keep the total number of board members to eight, with five elected, two appointed, plus the student member.
If passed, the two appointed members would join three members elected by senatorial districts and two elected at-large members.
“We need to take a position, because I think to fail to do so at the very least would be considered that we don’t care or at the very worst that we thought this was a good idea,” said board member Christina Delmont-Small, who made a motion to oppose the legislation. “I believe that, especially at the local level, it is very, very important for our constituents to be able to have as much control as possible as to who are their elected representatives.”
Board member Jennifer Swickard Mallo cautioned that the board’s taking a position could be premature, since education-related bills typically go through the board’s legislative committee first and also Lam and Watson are likely to make amendments to the bill.
“I am not supporting taking a stand on this particular bill, even as drafted,” Mallo said. “It hasn’t been reviewed and vetted by staff to give recommendations of how it would affect the school system.”
Delmont-Small countered that the board could not wait to go through the legislative committee process since the Howard County delegation scheduled a public hearing on proposed local legislation for Dec. 14, the day before the school board’s next meeting. Lu and Chen agreed, saying the school board had an obligation to provide joint testimony at the hearing given the importance of the legislation.
The initial motion to oppose the bill failed 4-4, with Mallo, McCoy, Watts and board member Jolene Mosley voting against it.
After McCoy pointed out that the motion did not specify whether the board opposed the current or all versions of the bill, Delmont-Small put forward a new motion in opposition to the legislation as it read as of Dec. 5. With McCoy’s support, the second motion passed 5-1-2, with Mallo still in opposition and Mosley and Watts abstaining.
“I think it’s very important for the public to have to have their open voice heard and not be influenced by what the Board of Education thinks,” said Mosley, explaining her vote. “We should be discussing it after the public comment and, more so, after we see amendments that may be filed.”
Delmont-Small pointed out that unlike with other education bills, the board was not consulted by the state delegation for input prior to the publication of the bill and that they should not remain silent at the December hearing.
“If there are changes or amendments [to the bill], we can then continue to provide additional input,” Delmont-Small said. “I just do not want us to miss an opportunity to be able to take a position on a very important piece of legislation that takes control away from our constituents on how the school system operates.”
The Howard County delegation’s public hearing will take place at 7 p.m. on Dec. 14 in the Banneker Room of the George Howard Building to solicit public feedback on proposed local legislation. Online registration to testify in person will be available from 6 p.m., Dec. 12 until 6:30 p.m., Dec. 14. In-person registration will also take place until 6:50 p.m. outside the Banneker Room.
Former school board Chair Vicky Cutroneo and other community leaders are scheduled to speak at a planned rally against the bill ahead of the hearing outside of the George Howard Building.
“I am opposed to any legislation that dilutes both the will of the people and ability to be represented across the county fairly,” Cutroneo posted Tuesday on Facebook.