Residents hear facts of life from members of the school board; Intent of meeting to provide information for potential candidates


Howard County school board members Karen B. Campbell and Sandra H. French described for about 25 people last night what it's like to serve.

They described their days as busy and their service as thankless.

Afterward, some in the audience said it's better to remain as spectators.

But others said they still would consider running for one of two seats that will become open in November.

"I've considered it in past years, and I'm very active in educational issues," said Dan Dotson of Columbia.

Dotson said the 20 to 25 hours a week that board members spend on school system business would not deter him if he decides to run.

"I probably spend close to that already on advocacy issues," he said.

Campbell and French held the meeting to inform prospective candidates of the responsibilities, obligations and expectations of a board member.

Even though the primary election isn't until March, the board members said it was important to hold the information session as early as possible so people know what the office is like.

French and Campbell displayed board policy notebooks 2 inches thick and state codes and books of regulation the size of encyclopedias.

"We have to know all this," French said.

They listed some of their duties: Twice-monthly board meetings that can last eight hours. Meetings of the PTA Council,

League of Women Voters, Howard communities, student and special-interest groups, budget and disciplinary hearings, tuition-waiver hearings and out-of-district-transfer hearings.

That list doesn't include all the reading, school visits and obligatory attendance at school plays, carnivals, bake sales and graduations. Or the family dinners spent on the telephone or late nights answering e-mail.

"It comes out to between 100 and 200 hours a month on board work," said Campbell, who will leave as chairwoman in November.

She said she would not run again.

The seat held by board Vice Chairman Stephen C. Bounds' also will be up in November.

Bounds has not announced whether he will run for re-election.

Three people have registered with the Howard County Board of Elections to run as candidates in the next election.

They are Patricia Gordon, Jerry Johnston and Melody Higgins, all of Ellicott City. The three attended last night's meeting and said they still intend to run.

The deadline to file candidacies with the Howard County Board of Elections is Dec. 27.

French and Campbell also seemed to attempt to discourage "loose cannons" from considering the post.

"Someone out on a limb or one loose cannon just isn't going to get anywhere," French said.

That's why the school board should not be elected by districts, they both said, referring to Del. Frank S. Turner's proposed bill that would change the way board members are elected.

Election by districts would divide the board too much, they said.

"Look at the County Council," French said. "They snipe at each other and they bicker with each other, and that's based along party lines. Or one party that's in the majority tends to withhold information from the other party. That cannot happen here because there are children at stake."

Campbell said those who are strong advocates for particular issues will be more successful as citizens than as board members because board members have to think countywide.

"The board is charged by statute to promote the interests of the school system," Campbell said.

Campbell and French said they have thoroughly enjoyed their time on the board.

"Being a board member is the most frustrating, stimulating, fun, tearful, thankless and gratifying job you will ever have," Campbell said.

Pub Date: 11/17/99

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad