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Board of Education candidates square off at forum

League of Women Voters' Board of Education candidates forum at the Applications and Research Lab of HCPSS.
League of Women Voters' Board of Education candidates forum at the Applications and Research Lab of HCPSS. (Staff photo by Jen Rynda)

With a little more than a month to go before the general election Nov. 6, the race for Howard County's Board of Education is heating up.

At a two-hour forum and debate Monday night sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Howard County and the PTA Council of Howard County, the candidates covered issues that ran the gamut, from transparency and technology to bullying and the budget.

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The event, held before a small audience in the television studio of the Howard County Public School System's Applications and Research Lab, was aired live on HCPSS TV and also streamed online.

Six candidates are vying for three open seats on the board: incumbents Ellen Giles and Janet Siddiqui, and challengers David Gertler, Jackie Scott, Ann De Lacy and Bob Ballinger. They were whittled down from an initial field of 14 in the April primary.

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Interspersed among questions about the high-school grading policy, redistricting and public input, each candidate was asked who among the other five candidates he or she would like to work with, and on what policies or programs the two could collaborate.

In response to that question, De Lacy chose Scott, because the two have "the same mindset," while Scott answered with Siddiqui because of the latter's "understanding of the development piece, of children's ability to learn."

Siddiqui in turn named every candidate in the race, and Giles said she would like to see "everyone up here work together, and if we continue to work together, whatever the results of the election … we can make a difference in the school system."

Gertler chose not to "endorse" any one candidate but said he would want to work with "intelligent people, people who are willing to ask questions, with different ideas than mine so we can hash out better ideas."

Ballinger responded to that question by naming current board member Brian Meshkin, who is not a candidate.

In regards to redistricting, Ballinger suggested open enrollment and more schools in the Elkridge area, while De Lacy warned again the current "broken" system of redistricting that creates "pockets of poverty" in the Columbia region.

When asked about the budget, Siddiqui and Giles both said the process and discussion should last longer and involve more people. When asked about technology, Gertler said the key factor of inspiring kids to go "off-script" is the difference between using technology, and leveraging technology.

When the candidates were asked if the school system should be using internal or external resources for special needs students, Scott responded that it wasn't an "either-or question. It's an 'and' question. Education as a whole is an 'and' question."

League co-president Betsy Grater closed the forum in encouraging the public to educate themselves about the candidates and voting in the general election.

"Democracy is not a spectator sport," she said.

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