Howard elects three new mem­bers

Chal­lengers sweep open seats amid crit­i­cism of schools, su­per­in­ten­dent

Baltimore Sun - - ELECTION 2016 - By Fa­timah Waseem Bal­ti­more Sun Media Group re­porters An­drew Michaels, Cindy Huang and Emily Chap­pell con­trib­uted to this ar­ti­cle.

Cap­ping a year that saw crit­ics of the Howard County school sys­tem vow to sweep in­cum­bents from the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion, vot­ers Tues­day ap­peared to do just that — elect­ing a trio of new­com­ers to fill three avail­able seats and po­ten­tially change the dy­nam­ics of the board.

With most of the county precincts tal­lied, vot­ers had cho­sen chal­lengers Kirsten Coombs, Christina Del­montS­mall and Mavis El­lis to four-year terms on the board, oust­ing in­cum­bent Janet Siddiqui, a Clarksville pe­di­a­tri­cian who had been on the school board since 2007. Two other in­cum­bents up for elec­tion this year were de­feated in the pri­mary.

“The hard work of many peo­ple paid off,” said front-run­ner Coombs. “Many peo­ple ... sent a mes­sage that they are not happy with how their com­mu­nity schools are be­ing op­er­ated. This is a vote of no con­fi­dence.”

Howard County has a seven-mem­ber school board, plus a non­vot­ing seat for a stu­dent mem­ber. The board is se­lected in a non­par­ti­san elec­tion, and three seats were up for elec­tion this year.

The new mem­bers will re­place a trio that has of­ten sided with a ma­jor­ity — and county schools Su­per­in­ten­dent Re­nee Foose — on con­tro­ver­sial pol­icy de­ci­sions.

Over the past year, the school sys­tem has faced scru­tiny from par­ents, teach­ers and elected of­fi­cials. It is un­der a fis­cal au­dit by the Howard County Coun­cil, as well as an in­ves­ti­ga­tion or­dered by the state Se­nate re­gard­ing its re­sponse to pub­lic in­for­ma­tion re­quests.

In ad­di­tion, par­ents have com­plained about is­sues re­lated to the dis­cov­ery of mold at Glen­wood Mid­dle School and a board decision in Fe­bru­ary — which the now-ousted in­cum­bents sup­ported — to give Foose a new four-year, $273,000-ayear con­tract.

Dur­ing the pri­mary elec­tion, sev­eral chal­lengers emerged to face the in­cum­bents, and five ad­vanced to Tues­day’s gen­eral elec­tion, along with Siddiqui.

The Howard County Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, the county’s teacher union, cam­paigned for the chal­lengers, with union Pres­i­dent Paul Lemle calling the elec­tion a “ref­er­en­dum …on the cur­rent su­per­in­ten­dent and board ma­jor­ity.”

Coombs, of Columbia, said Tues­day she be­lieves the school board race sends a sig­nal to Foose.

“It’s time for Re­nee to up­date her re­sume,” Coombs said. Foose “has to know that she is the em­ployee, not the em­ployer [of the school board] and it’s not a ques­tion of work­ing with, but a ques­tion of how this new board ma­jor­ity man­ages the su­per­in­ten­dent.”

A pupil per­son­nel worker for Mont­gomery County Pub­lic Schools since 2001, El­lis has served on the boards of the Mary­land State Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion and Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion.

“I was im­pressed with the sup­port by the teach­ers at the polls,” El­lis said late Tues­day. “I’m ex­hausted but I feel very pos­i­tive. … This will change ev­ery­thing.”

Del­mont-Small, for­mer pres­i­dent of the PTA Coun­cil of Howard County, cam­paigned for in­creased ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency of the school board.

At the polls Tues­day, sev­eral peo­ple cam­paigned on anti-in­cum­bent sen­ti­ments. Paul Verchin­ski, an Oak­land Mills res­i­dent, was at Jef­fers Hill El­e­men­tary School in Columbia en­cour­ag­ing vot­ers to sup­port Coombs, Del­mont-Small, El­lis and fel­low chal­lenger Vicky Cutro­neo.

Verchin­ski said he hoped for a “clean sweep” on the board to re­move in­cum­bents.

That feel­ing wasn’t univer­sal, how­ever. Barb Kru­pi­arz, a mother of two stu­dents in county schools, was out­side Ilch­ester El­e­men­tary School in El­li­cott City, said she didn’t sense the same anti-in­cum­bent sen­ti­ment that ex­isted in the pri­mary.

In Car­roll County, four can­di­dates were vy­ing to fill two open school seats. Re­tired Car­roll County schools teacher Mar­sha Her­bert of West­min­ster and ac­tu­ary Donna Sivi­gny of Finks­burg de­feated Howard County teacher Julie Kings­ley of Mount Airy and for­mer Car­roll County schools in­struc­tional as­sis­tant Mary Kowal­ski.

In Anne Arun­del County, vot­ers were asked to ap­prove or de­cline Gov. Larry Ho­gan’s five ap­pointees on the county Board of Ed­u­ca­tion. Julie Hum­mer, Tom Frank, Eric Gran­non, Terry Gil­le­land Jr. and Maria Sasso all had wide sup­port with most of county precincts re­port­ing.

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