At its regular board meeting on Dec. 19, the Howard County Board of Education (BOE) announced its unanimous decision to select Interim Superintendent Michael Martirano as the Howard County Public School System’s (HCPSS) permanent superintendent. Martirano has served as interim superintendent since May 2017, when previous Superintendent Renee Foose resigned.

Board Chair Cynthia Vaillancourt and Martirano signed a letter of intent to begin the negotiation process that will lead to a contract extending from July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2022, pending the approval of State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon. Martirano’s contract as interim superintendent expires on June 30 this year.

Although the board approved a request for proposal for superintendent search firms on Aug. 17, Vaillancourt said the board decided to forego the process based on Martirano’s performance.

Board Member Sandy French said she initially believed the board should conduct a national search, but changed her mind based on the board’s similar decision to offer Interim Superintendent Sydney Cousin the permanent position without a superintendent search in 2004.

“What we found [with Dr. Martirano] was a very caring, humane, dedicated educator who, for one thing, listens to the board and hears our concerns, doesn’t do everything and pushes back when he believes he should push back,” French said. “We have a good dialogue, and that’s what I appreciate.”

In his role as interim superintendent, Martirano “exceeded our expectations as to what could be accomplished in such a short time,” said Council Member Bess Altwerger.

School Start Times

During its December meeting, the BOE voted to rescind changes implemented for the start and dismissal times during the 2018_19 school year and retain the existing model instead. The board action concludes an extensive study and analysis process that began in 2013.

According to the HCPSS Interim Auditor’s analysis of the four alternative models under consideration, each would have required the use of more school buses, adding costs to the school system budget ranging from $6.2 million to $9.1 million per year.

The board asked Martirano to consider developing a program to help mitigate the impact on the most vulnerable students who experience issues with the currently scheduled start times.

During the BOE’s Dec. 7 meeting, board members unanimously selected Cynthia Vaillancourt as chairperson and Mavis Ellis as vice chairman, serving one-year terms.

New Council Officers

During its December legislative session, the Howard County Council elected new officers to serve through the end of the council term in 2018.

The council elected Mary Kay Sigaty (D-Dist. 4) as the new chairperson, with Calvin Ball (D-Dist. 2) serving as vice chair.

Councilmember Jen Terrasa (D-Dist. 3) will serve as chair of the Zoning Board, with Calvin Ball serving as vice chair. The board also elected Greg Fox (R-Dist. 5) to serve as chair of the Board of License Commissioners, more commonly known as the Liquor Board, with Councilmember Jon Weinstein (D-Dist. 1) serving as vice chair.

Terrasa will serve as the board’s representative on the Maryland Association of Counties Legislative Committee, with Ball as the alternate. Fox will serve as the National Association of Counties liaison, with Weinstein as alternate, and Sigaty continues her role with the Patuxent River Commission.

Also in December, the council approved the transfer of $6,300 from the Grants Fund, Contingency Reserve, to the Department of Recreation and Parks for new historic signs at the B&O Railroad Museum, in Ellicott City.

The council approved a payment in lieu of taxes agreement between the county and the Shalom Heritage Limited partnership for a rental housing unit to be known as Shalom Square in Columbia.

Tabled legislation include a request from K2 Properties LLC to amend zoning regulations that would permit hotels, motels, country inns and conference centers as a matter of right in the B-1 zoning district, and would also allow for extended stay lodging.

The council passed resolutions to adopt comprehensive revisions of Volumes III and IV of the county’s Design Manual, revising criteria and standards for the design of road systems, and revising standards and specifications relating to the construction of roads and utilities, respectively.

Pre-Filed Legislation

In December, Ball filed legislation to establish property tax credits up to $2,500 for public safety personnel who work and own their residence in the county.

“Having first-responders living in our neighborhoods reinforces our community policing policies, assists in emergency situations and helps reduce criminal activity.” Ball said.

Kittleman filed legislation in December that would help veteran-owned businesses more easily obtain county purchasing contracts.

The goal, he said, would be for 1% of the county’s total procurement dollars to go to veteran-owned businesses under the newly formed Veteran-Owned Business Enterprise Program.

New Buses

Last month, County Executive Allan Kittleman announced the introduction of seven new transit buses to serve Howard County through the Regional Transportation Agency (RTA) of Central Maryland. The new buses will replace seven older buses in the fleet.

“There does come a time when you just need to get a new bus, and that’s what we’re working on now,” Kittleman said. “We want to improve our fleet for our drivers, our employees and our folks who ride throughout Howard County.”

Fleet improvements during the past three years have begun to pay dividends, he said. “With more than 60% of bus riders using this service to get to work, there is strong economic benefit in ensuring we provide a reliable transit service.”

The seven 2017 El Dorado EZ-Rider II buses will help the county reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce maintenance costs and provide more reliable, comfortable service, he said.

“When I took office there were a lot of complaints about the routes, and we’ve been working on that with our Office of Transportation, trying to make them more user friendly and run more often,” Kittleman said. “All of it, of course, takes money. If we make them user-friendly and have more buses, we’re going to have more people ride. It will be better for our environment, for our employees, for our residents and better for Howard County.”