A cadre of school board candidates used a public forum in Eldersburg last night to emphasize issues that have become familiar in Carroll County: increasing teacher salaries, improving student achievement and making the board more accessible to the public.
So many candidates -- 22 -- are running in the election March 7 that the League of Women Voters, which sponsored the evening forum at Linton Springs Elementary, veered from its tradition of asking candidates to address sundry issues. About 50 people showed up.
"With so many candidates, to ask them all the same question would have been really boring," said Rosemary Hanger, president of Carroll's chapter of the league. "And to ask different questions of the candidates is hardly fair."
Each of the 16 candidates in attendance were granted three minutes at the microphone to speak. Some told the audience why they would be great on the school board. Others talked about issues or criticized the current board.
One issue raised by several candidates was school construction. Angela M. Lee, John P. Buchheister and James Earl Kraft insisted that schools should be built in ways to facilitate additions over time to relieve crowding.
"It's time to get kids out of trailers," said Kraft.
Curriculum reform was another popular topic. John A. Ferrara said he wants phonics taught in every classroom beginning in early grades. Henry George Griese IV and Mary D. Oldewurtel supported reform that would improve test scores.
This year, Carroll County slipped from third to fourth in the state in the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program.
"We could be the best education system in the state," Oldewurtel said. "I don't see any point in being No. 4 and falling when we can be No. 1."
Candidates talked about improving technology. Cynthia M. Parr and Ralph Grubb-Wheeler pushed a plan to lease computer and office equipment rather than to buy it to keep technology current.
Robert Spring floated a proposal to set up Web sites that would allow parents to view their children's progress at the click of a mouse.
"There's no better way to get parents involved," Spring said.
Candidates took to the stage in smaller groups of six, as the League of Women Voters hoped that would make it easier for voters to keep track, rather than having the entire line of candidates in front of them at once.
The top four vote-getters March 7 will campaign in the November general election for two open seats on the five-member board.
The terms of two veterans, Joseph D. Mish Jr. and Ann M. Ballard, are up, and neither is running for re-election.
The election comes at a pivotal time. The school system has been involved in turmoil of late.
A county grand jury is investigating the system and its handling of several construction projects.
School officials angered many parents this month by unveiling a three-year redistricting plan that would relocate more than 4,000 students. The officials are also moving forward with building a high school in Westminster, over the objections of many South Carroll parents who want the money spent in other areas.
Even through hard times, the school board has been largely supportive of Superintendent William H. Hyde and his administration. Reform-minded member Susan W. Krebs, who has questioned many staff decisions, has been the exception.
Many candidates, however, have been calling for major changes to improve the system's image.
Candidates attacked the current board. Susan Holt said the purpose of a school board is to guide the school system while the purpose of a superintendent is to manage and implement.
Philip Brand said a board has to work as a team to be effective.
Lisa Breslin scolded the current board for letting personal attacks get in the way of progress.
"I don't want this board to be divided by regional loyalties," Breslin said. "Most of us deserved high marks as individuals but that's not all that matters."
Thomas L. Schaffer said that his most important qualification is that he has closely followed the Carroll school board for years.