Two new members to change mix on the Board of Education


Diane Mikulis and Mary Kay Sigaty have been long active in the Howard County school system, having served on numerous committees and PTAs.

But their views on issues will take on greater importance beginning today, when the newly elected school board members are sworn in at the Board of Education building.

"When I first came on, you tend to think that you'll be able to change things and make an impact very quickly," said school board Chairman Courtney Watson, who joined the board in 2002. "What you find out, it's a learning curve even if you have been involved in advocacy before. It's a learning curve in terms of process, bureaucracy and how long things take."

Mikulis and Sigaty will make their first major decision Thursday when the five-member board tackles an unresolved redistricting issue: whether to allow open enrollment at Marriott's Ridge High School, which is scheduled to open next fall.

Next month, the board will begin reviewing Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin's fiscal year 2006 operating budget.

"It's definitely baptism by fire," Watson said. "They'll get thrown into the budget process. That's where you get up to speed quickly. You get thrown in there. They'll be fine. They're both very, very qualified, intelligent and hard-working."

Mikulis and Sigaty join Watson, Joshua Kaufman and Patricia S. Gordon on the board.

Meanwhile, the board loses 12-year veteran Sandra H. French, who decided not to seek re-election, and three-year member James P. O'Donnell, who dropped out of the race in the summer.

With new board members, county parents and the public should expect to see changes in the group dynamics, French said.

"They will find some processes that work better for them as a new board," she said. "Every new board member brings a new perspective that helps the board retain its relevancy, and yet you cannot ignore the stability and the experience that the other board members offer. It's kind of a new marriage - a new way of settling in."

Sigaty's two children graduated from the school system, the youngest in June, while Mikulis has three children in the school system, joining Watson as a parent-board member.

"Sandie and I not having any children in the school system for quite a long while, one change will be a much more familiarity with the happenings of the schools," O'Donnell said. "In the last few years we've made changes, and they might have perspective on the impact of those changes both in the academic achievement of students and also the workload of teachers."

While French takes with her nearly two decades of institutional knowledge, Cousin, who spent 16 years in Howard's school system before retiring for a year and then returning, can fill that role, said Ellen Flynn Giles, chairwoman of the Citizens Advisory Committee.

Last week, Mikulis and Sigaty attended a two-day orientation session for new board members statewide organized by the Maryland Association of Boards of Education - going over their roles and responsibilities and the state's education law.

Mikulis said she expects to have many questions in the beginning.

"We're trying to understand what's going on and, in many cases, get clarification and understand the reasons behind things that may be common knowledge to the other three," she said. "I've been following [the issues], but it's a little different when you vote on it."

In the next six months, the new board also will oversee the school system's contract negotiations with teachers and support staff, and consider policy revisions on issues such as high-school grading and academic eligibility.

"I just know that they will apply their best efforts and best thinking to everything they do because they care very much about the students in the school system and employees as well," French said.

Mikulis and Sigaty are scheduled to be sworn in at 7:30 p.m. at the Department of Education building, 10910 Route 108, Ellicott City.

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