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Residents Weigh In On Lack of School Board Diversity

County Executive Ken Ulman aims to appoint a panel to study the school board.

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.”

Ulman told the Howard County Times Tuesday he "definitely" plans to appoint the panel on school board diversity, which he wants to do by the fall, before the General Assembly special session.

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.”

michael herlihy July 28, 2011 at 12:44 PM
Well the solution is simple, let's see more people who feel unrepresented run for office rather than just complain about the results and never get in the 'game'. And let's not hear the usual excuses - we're too busy, got a day job, got kids to watch, etc. as either step up or step aside.
JJ July 28, 2011 at 04:16 PM
Diversity for diversity's sake is so bass-ackward. Well said Michael. When you have programs like this, you may get a less-qualified individual for the job. Hand-selecting individuals based on race and/or ethnicity is the crux of racism and prejudice, is it not?
Ray July 28, 2011 at 04:51 PM
This is one of the highest rated school systems in the state. Great teachers, admin, sports the whole nine yards. It has one of the highest percentages of college bound students in the area. Diversity for diversity's sake is not only bass-ackward ... it is also a cheap underhanded political ploy just in time for the next round of elections. The voters determine who gets elected ... don't cheapen the process for political gain. To put it into words that even Ulman can understand ... this system is working, don't fix it over one candidate’s sour grapes.

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