School Board Fantasy

April 21, 1992

This coming weekend, the entire Baltimore County school board is traveling to Orlando, Fla., home of Walt Disney World, for a four-day convention to pick up tips on -- are you ready for this? -- coping and saving money in tight times.

And you thought the legendary cartoonist Walt Disney had an imagination.

Here's one tip for the board before it reaches the tarmac: Why not send a representative or two rather than the entire group?

School Board President Rosalie Hellman rationalizes that the cost of the trip to the National School Board Conference won't exceed the $11,000 the board had budgeted for meetings and conventions in 1992. The amount is small potatoes in the half-billion dollar education budget for Baltimore County. And in any normal year, one might not be inclined to quibble with the hard-working, unpaid volunteers of the school board attending an education convention in a Sunbelt resort.

But as the board has just explained to teachers who must take unpaid furlough days, this is not a normal year. Parents and children are also being asked to adjust -- in their case, to the possibility of larger classes because the county may not be able to afford more teachers.

With its do-as-we-say, not-as-we-do, business-as-usual convention plans, the board helps create more bad feelings in a school system already embittered over budget cuts and fear for the future.

The matter of sensitivity hasn't been lost on other area school boards: Anne Arundel hasn't sent a member to the national convention in two years; Baltimore City and Carroll County aren't sending anyone this year; Harford and Howard counties are each cutting back to two representatives -- all due to economic constraints. In fact, attendance at many national education gatherings is down, a tough nut for organizations that raise money through these conventions.

The Baltimore County board's timing could not be worse. Its trip comes on the eve of local budget deliberations by a county council already facing the snapping jaws of taxpayer coalitions.

Like Disney's Main Street U.S.A., the convention trip by the entire Baltimore County school board is of another era and the board's defense of the expense is a fanciful facade.

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