Opposition by Howard County Board of Education members to a proposal that will change the way future boards are constructed is growing stronger.

The Howard County Board of Education Commission, convened by County Executive Ken Ulman to find ways to encourage diversity on the board, recommended on Sept. 26 that the system create a hybrid school board with two appointed members and five elected by County Council districts. The at-large members would be appointed by the executive and approved by the council.


The commission, chaired by Nancy Grasmick, former state superintendent of schools, took less than two months to make its decision, a length of time that some found alarming.

"This narrative that they (commission members) are developing, that this has been a thorough and deliberate process is a crock," board member Cindy Vaillancourt said Tuesday, Oct. 4.

The board will present its official statement on the proposal — and some of its members will give individual remarks — at a public hearing held by the Howard County state delegation on Oct. 11 at 7:30 p.m. in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City. While the testimony is not expected to vary much from sentiments expressed by the board at the panel's public hearing in September, the board's feelings should be "known more strongly," said Brian Meshkin. His fellow board members agreed with him at their meeting Tuesday.

"I don't see anything in that legislation that is worthy," said Allen Dyer. "We should come down on a strong recommendation against that legislation, period."

Several board members, in discussing their upcoming testimonies, called the proposal offensive in several ways. One, pointed out Ellen Giles, was the last paragraph included in the proposed legislation that states such a change in voting is "an emergency measure" and "necessary for the immediate preservation of public health or safety."

"That's something that should be addressed," she said. "I don't see where that danger to public health or safety exists."

Currently, the nonpartisan board is made up of seven members elected county-wide, as it has been since 1974.

Changing the make-up of the Howard board requires amending state law, and Del. Frank Turner, a Columbia Democrat, is filing a bill to do just that. If the state delegation approves the measure, Turner will try to get it included in the special session of the General Assembly later this fall.

The legislation, if adopted by the General Assembly, would have a direct impact on the 2012 election, when Giles, Dyer and Janet Siddiqui are up for re-election. Both Giles and Dyer would represent, and be running against each other, in District 5.

Prior to 1974, board members were appointed to their seats. Appointments have been made in recent years, however. Siddiqui was appointed to the board in 2007 by Ulman, to fill the vacancy left when Mary Kay Sigaty was elected to the county council.

Many board members expressed frustration over the commission's proceedings, as they felt rushed, misinformed and, student member Tomi Williams said, predetermined. Rarely, Giles said, was a "real focus on student achievement" expressed by the commission.

"The only question that should have been asked," Giles said, is '"Would this improve the performance and success of our students."

The notion that there's a correlation between board representation and student performance based on race is an offensive presumption, Meshkin said. The concerns of the panel, he said, are "adult concerns," when the real focus of the board is students.

While she said "reputations were damaged in this process," Vaillancourt did have praise for at least some members of the panel.


"I have new heroes," she said, referring to panel members Paul Lemle and Chaun Hightower, president of the Howard County Education Association and PTA Council, respectively, who pointed out the panel needed more time and information, but were "summarily dismissed" by Grasmick. "They were phenomenal in the face of crazy, incompetent conversation."