Candidates discuss plans for schools


Stephen C. Bounds took a stand last night: The Howard County Board of Education member will not vote to build the county's 38th elementary school next to a former landfill.

Bounds - one of four people running for two school board seats that will open this fall - told a roomful of parents and community members at Ilchester Elementary School that the school system should find a more appropriate site for the northeast elementary school. It is scheduled to open in 2003.

Said Bounds: "We can do better than that."

The declaration was greeted with applause from the more than 50 people in attendance, many of whom have expressed concern about building the school near the former New Cut landfill because of dangerous levels of methane gas recently detected there.

Bounds, the sole incumbent running, also told the audience that he planned to remain in Howard County for at least six years - one school board term - despite aspirations to be a school superintendent somewhere else.

Bounds, an attorney, had been criticized during the primary election for applying for superintendent jobs in other states.

"Someday, I do hope to do that," Bounds said. "I have a real passion for education, and I want to do it on a full-time basis someday. But I intend to spend six more years here and fulfill my term."

Also last night, candidate Virginia Charles listed things she would lobby for if elected, including better pay for teachers, reductions in class sizes and more equitable distribution of resources among schools.

Charles also argued for expanding the system's in-school suspension program and using central office workers as substitute teachers when necessary.

Charles said she favored a suggestion by the Study Group to Review Board of Education Responsibilities and Compensation to expand the school board by two members.

Candidate Patricia S. Gordon said the board should enact a two-year moratorium on redistricting to study population growth and county demographics.

She also said she would support a tax increase to fund the district's proposed 12th high school if taxpayers favored it.

Gordon said the Listening Post portion of school board meetings should be televised and that more than five people should be allowed to address the board during the sessions. Five people are allowed to speak for three minutes each before each meeting. Unlike the rest of the meeting, Listening Post is not televised on county cable channels.

Candidate Jerry Johnston said he would not have supported the school board's decision last year to reward outgoing Superintendent Michael E. Hickey with a $16,000 annuity gift, nor would he have voted to commission an $8,500 portrait of Hickey for his retirement.

Said Johnston: "If we could [have spent] $2,500 for the portrait, there might have been $6,000 left over to buy computers."

Johnston also disagreed with the 8.5 percent salary increase for three associate superintendents, saying it should have been in line with teachers' raises, which were 6 percent.

Johnston said he favored a countywide redistricting plan, as opposed to the "piecemeal" redrawing of boundary lines that occurs each year to accommodate growth.

All four candidates said they preferred using portable classrooms in crowded schools to redistricting pupils, even though many parents dislike the self-contained outdoor classrooms.

And all four said they supported the district's current practice of moving the best teachers and principals to the schools where they are most needed, despite parents' objections.

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