Prince George's County School Board member Norman (Chuck) Saunders, known for a strong stand against school busing and a traditional approach to education, intends to work for the election of Bonnie Johns to the board chairmanship, even though she is probusing and considered one of its more liberal members.
Johns, the board's only black voting member (its nonvoting student member is black), says she will decide soon whether to accept Saunders' offer of the nomination for the chairmanship. Board officers will be chosen for the coming year at a meeting next Monday.
Saunders described the move as "an olive branch" to Johns and by extension to the interests of the black community. The school system is 49.9 percent black.
"I think it is time that we on the board of education prove conclusively to all factions in Prince George's County that we are a cut above the political considerations that go beyond educational excellence . . ." said Saunders, who added he has been proud of bringing "very provocative ideas to the board" in the past.
It has been no secret, according to Johns, that she and Saunders have had differences in the three years she has been on the board. Saunders first mentioned the chairmanship idea to her at a dinner last week.
"He said it was "his way of extending the olive branch," said Johns.
Saunders defeated black challenger Mary Touchstone in a hard fought race that drew more votes and interest than the other two contested races for school board seats on Nov. 4. He did it with what one board member called the "immovable" support of an important part of the black voters in the southern third of the county. During the race Saunders said the entire weight of the county NAACP and black elected officials was thrown behind the Touchstone effort.
"I think he'd probably like to improve his relationship with the black community in Prince George's County, or at least to prove that there is no problem," said Touchstone, who says she would be glad to see Johns in the chairmanship.
Saunders conceded that the chairmanship, which carries a $500 increase over the ordinary board member's $6,000 salary, is not a powerful position. The chairman runs the bimonthly public board meetings and sets the items on its agenda, although members can add to it.
But Saunders said a Johns chairmanship would have "a psychological impact on the entire county" and would be "a show of good faith" on the part of the board.
Johns said one important consideration in accepting the draft would be knowing she would have a genuine mandate to get things done.
"I need that commitment that we can work together for action. There is a world of work out there, plenty to take up the skills, talents and brain power of the board members," she said.
The board's current chairman, Jo Ann Bell, said yesterday she is running for reelection with Doris Eugene as vice chairman. She said she was "very disappointed" that Saunders had said nothing to her of his intention. Bell, a housewife, said she will talk to Johns and the remaining board members to decide, among other things, whether Johns would have enough time to devote to the job. Johns is an administrator with the Community Mental Health Center in Cheverly.
Saunders said he would support Leslie Kreimer for vice chairman along with Johns. Kreimer said she would accept, meaning three votes for the Johns ticket. Board member Al Golato said he will support Bell, giving her three votes also. The board has nine members, and five votes are necessary for election.