Whose voice is heard when it comes to the Howard County School Board?
At a public forum Monday night with County Executive Ken Ulman, residents said racial or ethnic minorities weren't, and neither were certain areas of the county.
“Our children deserve to have a board that is representative, including geographically, socioeconomically, culturally and racially, and looks like them and comes from the perspective that they come from,” said Jacqueline Scott, a Columbia resident.
“For too long, there’s been little-to-no representation in Columbia, where I live, nor has there been adequate racial or cultural representation.”
Ulman said he was “leaning heavily” toward doing what one of the speakers had suggested, creating a panel to advise the county on ways to add diversity to the board.
“I hear it everywhere I go,” Ulman said after the forum ended. And he’s been hearing it since the last school board election when a black candidate, Larry Walker, came in last in the general election after placing third in the primary.
“Larry Walker’s defeat,” Ulman said, “That brought up the discussion of how difficult it is to get elected county-wide.”
The three people who spoke about diversity all made it clear that race and ethnicity were not the only factors that concerned them.
“All [school board] representatives are in areas of the counties where the schools are doing extremely well,” Laurel resident Shannon Taitt testified.
But that’s not the case in all areas of the county, Taitt said. She wanted Ulman to look at the makeup of the board “from the ‘forgotten aspects,’ not only racial and ethnic, but geographically and socioeconomically.”
Members of the board are currently living in Ellicott City, Scaggsville, Clarksville and Fulton.
“This is the first time since Columbia was built that there’s no member of the board that’s from Columbia,” Ulman said. “This is absolutely an issue that I think we as a community need to take a look at.”
Diversity in representation was not only lacking on the school board, according to others who testified, but when it came to other county bodies, too.
Linda Spencer, who lives on Turf Valley Road in Ellicott City, said that she felt unrepresented when it came to development in her neighborhood.
“The county routinely disregards its own regulations when their enforcement would inconvenience a developer,” said Spencer.
“I believe it is time for Howard County to provide an ombudsman, or a people’s representative, so residents can appeal in situations where we feel that our needs and interests are not being represented adequately.”
Spencer is not alone in this sentiment. In the wake of contract zoning, some Elkridge residents have said that they feel they aren’t represented in the development arena either.
The County Council doubles as the Zoning Board, and residents are not allowed to discuss issues with their representatives when cases are open for review, according to the Rules of Procedure for the Howard County Zoning Board. As a result, they have to bring their concerns to developers' attorneys rather than their elected officials.
Several Elkridge residents also testified about other local issues, including the proposed CSX intermodal facility, transportation and revitalization along the Route 1 corridor and the potential for a police substation in Elkridge.
Several residents also testified in favor of a bill that will give nonprofit swim clubs property tax credits. The County Council is scheduled to vote on that bill Thursday.