A Columbia resident is the fifth candidate seeking a Howard County school board seat, forcing a fall primary to narrow the field to four for the nonpartisan general election.
Robert F. Minehart Jr., a staff officer for the Office of Policy at the National Security Agency, who filed his candidacy last week, says he wants to give parents greater access as board members make decisions on policies, budget issues and redistricting changes.
The school board is "something where I can make a difference and something I have a lot of concern about," he said. "I enjoy community involvement."
Under a provision of state law that applies only to school board elections, there must be a primary election if there are more than two candidates for each vacancy. With Mr. Minehart's entry into the race, there are five candidates for the positions being vacated by board members Dana Hanna and Deborah Kendig.
Mr. Minehart, a professional engineer, is married and has two children who attend Stevens Forest Elementary School. The registered Democrat sits on the legislative committee of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce and is treasurer of the Columbia Forum. He has been chairman of the annual Great Cardboard Boat Regatta since it began in 1991. The regatta begins summer activities at Columbia's lakefront.
Mr. Minehart said that while the current school board is doing a good job, it can do a better one.
"The perception is, whether good or bad, the public has not been involved," he said.
"These are public schools, and the public should decide what they want."
He says he would work to get more community involvement.
"There's nothing wrong with the school board going out to groups to meet," he said. "You reach into the community and you pull people out. There's a lot of introverted people who have good ideas."
Among the issues facing Howard County schools, Mr. Minehart cites year-round schooling, Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's future and capital expenditures.
Mr. Minehart said he has not decided whether he supports or opposes year-round schooling, a type of scheduling that eliminates the traditional 12-week summer vacations.
"If the community chose to recommend year-round schools, it would be hard to go against what they say. Personally, year-round schooling scares me. What are we going to do with day care?" he said.
Regarding Dr. Hickey's future, Mr. Minehart said, "I have to believe his intentions are all good, and he's tried his best.
"When his term is up, the school board should see who's interested and see who is best qualified for the job. It may be that Dr. Hickey is best qualified, but it's important we say to the community that we . . . really looked at [everybody]."
Mr. Minehart would also like to strengthen the school system's partnerships with business so that businesses can give exposure and provide training to students who are preparing for college and the work world.
"The students who are interested in politics, get them downtown more," he said. "The students who are interested in [shipping], get them down to the docks in Baltimore more. We have a very good system, but we need to look into the future. We need more.
"I'm not hitting on or criticizing what people have done on the board," Mr. Minehart said. "What's important is they have given it their all. I think more can be done."
The four other candidates for the school board are:
Lisbon resident and Republican Stephen Bounds, a lawyer who works in Ellicott City; West Friendship veterinarian and Democrat Karen Campbell, a former school board member; Columbia resident and Democrat Delroy Cornick, a retired Morgan State University professor; and Elkridge resident and Democrat Jamie Kendrick, a University of Maryland College Park student.