UNIONTOWN - Susan Ballas wasn't able to attend the Board of Education candidate forum at Francis Scott Key High School.

The Sykesville mother had other school obligations Monday night, but she made sure an issue of concern to her would be answered by the candidates vying for two open seats on the five-member board.

Ballas, a part-time nurse, was unsuccessful last month in getting permission for her third-grade daughter to switch bus stops once or twice a week. The district allows changes only on a consistent basis.

"I just felt like the board was being totally unfair," Ballas said. "I found out a lot of other parents are in the same situation."

She has found support among the candidates -- C. Michael Fitzgerald, Ann M. Ballard, Joseph D. Mish Jr. and incumbent Robert L. Fletcher, who initially broached the board on her behalf.

Ballas had requested that her daughter get off the same bus at a different stop.

Fitzgerald, a Westminster insurance appraiser, said he would like to review the policy to see if something could be worked out.

"The (bus-policy) is a no-win situation. I think we need to look at it," he said.

"It's a major problem," said Ballard, a Mount Airy housewife and former vice president and president of the Mount Airy PTA. "It's hard for working parents. The policy has to be flexible. I think that getting off at a different stop on the same bus shouldn't be a problem."

Although Mish, a retired county school teacher, said he thought the board adopted the policy in good faith, he said the board has to bend to meet the needs of parents.

"I think she has a legitimate cause," the Sykesville resident said.

Fletcher, a logistics specialist for Westinghouse Electric Corp., did not attend the forum, which was sponsored by various parent-teacher organizations, because he was undergoing treatment at Carroll County General Hospital.

The Westminster resident is seeking his third six-year term.

The bus-switching policy wasn't the only issue debated, however. The candidates were asked their stances on a variety of issues, including extending the school year by 20 days and easing the requirements to become teachers.

All three candidates opposed the Maryland Board of Education proposal to extend the school year from 180 to 200 days.

"I'm absolutely against it," Ballard said. "I think children learn different things over the summer. We take our children on vacation every year, and no matter what you end up doing, they learn something."

Fitzgerald said an extended school calendar was "the wrong way to go" because Carroll cannot afford to add air conditioning to 50 percent of its buildings.

Mish said he didn't think taxpayers would support it.

"I'm opposed because of the astronomical cost," he said.

Fletcher has said he would support the concept if the state provided additional dollars for schools.

The candidates were more receptive to another Maryland Board of Education proposal that would ease the requirements to become a teacher.

"I have reservations," Mish said. "I think there needs to be a lot more study in how much teaching practice should be involved. The traditional way of certifying teachers isn't the only way, but we do need to have people who will make a commitment to the profession."

Fitzgerald agreed. "Ninety hours of certification is not quite enough.

There's a lot of real-world knowledge out there that could be brought into the system. I think more training would be needed."

"We could open up a wealth of information to our children," Ballard said, noting Carroll is in a unique situation because of its proximity to government officials in Washington.

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