District board elections backed; Robey, NAACP favor bill; some school panel members oppose it


A bill that would require the election of Howard County school board members by district won support last night from County Executive James N. Robey and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

School board members and others urged rejection of Del. Frank S. Turner's bill at a public hearing held by the county's state legislators in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.

Board members are elected countywide, and Howard has a black population of about 15 percent.

Some feel that a black could be elected by running in a smaller area.

Robey's support was conveyed through an aide, Herman Charity, who said the executive agrees with complaints about inequities in the schools, and that they could be eased if board members are elected by district.

Natalie Woodson, of the county NAACP chapter, said the lack of a black on the five-member board is one of those inequities.

Woodson said Howard schools have a 16.9 percent black population.

"We have not had a school board member elected in 15 years," she said. "There is a need for diversity on the board."

In Howard, Woodson said, there is "scapegoating of African-American students" by people concerned about lagging test scores at some schools.

She said 27 percent of all students are below grade level, and about 2,500 of that roughly 10,000-member group are black.

"We need to be sure we have a school board looking at this factual data," she said.

Woodson said blacks "should be looked at with a degree of sensitivity and not as a deficit to the county."

Board member Sandra H. French said it could be difficult to hire a school superintendent if candidates know the board that hired them could be gone in a single election.

Turner's bill calls for all five board seats to be elected by district in one year.

Under the measure, the two receiving the most votes would serve six years, the next highest four years and the last-place finisher two years, preserving continuity on the new board.

"What superintendent is going to come in knowing that within two years, the entire board will be fired?" French asked.

She seemed to take the bill as a personal insult and said, "I have represented every single child. We love this county. We love every school."

She said that worries over school equity partly stem from "city children who have to learn new behaviors. Behaviors needed for survival [in Baltimore] are not needed, or permissible, here. There's a cultural shift."

Stephen C. Bounds, the board's vice chairman, also opposed the bill. "This bill is not in the interest of schools and the students of Howard County," he said.

"We do not have Columbia schools and Howard County schools," said board member Jane B. Schuchardt. "We have one system."

Of the 12 proposed bills submitted by Howard's Annapolis delegation, Turner's has drawn the most attention.

A proposal to raise board members salaries from $9,900 to $12,000 a year also has drawn interest.

Sen. Christopher J. McCabe has proposed a measure that would create a Compensation Review Board to recommend salary changes for county sheriff, state's attorney, Orphans' Court judges and school board members.

A proposed bond issue -- $392,500 to help build a new day care center at St. Stephens African Methodist Episcopal Church in Elkridge -- drew criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union.

The money would go to a nonprofit corporation set up by the church, but ACLU board member Kenneth A. Stevens said it is an unconstitutional aid to religion.

Another potential issue is state Sen. Martin G. Madden's proposed measure that would require sanctions against merchants, who sell tobacco products to children under 18.

The issue was dramatically illustrated last week when the state fire marshal's office said the fire that destroyed six businesses on Ellicott City's historic Main Street was started by a 17-year-old careless smoker, who flicked his cigarette into a pile of trash outside a restaurant.

The delegation is scheduled to discuss and possibly vote on the proposals Dec. 1 and, if necessary, Dec. 8.

The General Assembly convenes Jan. 12.

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