Here's how school boards around the region reacted to the question of whether to attend the National School Board Association conference in Orlando, Fla. this coming weekend:
Anne Arundel County -- Can't afford to go this year; couldn't afford to send anyone last year.
Baltimore City -- Can't afford it.
Carroll County -- Can't afford it.
Harford County -- Will send two of six board members.
Howard County -- Will sponsor two of five members.
Baltimore County -- We're all going to Disney World!
The Baltimore County board realized the sensitivities it would arouse by paying $11,000 to send all 10 members to the four-day convention in Orlando, in the wake of teacher furloughs and budget deficits, and decided to ignore all that, turn tail and head south.
The board rationalizes that the annual convention is a useful source of education for its volunteer members. That may well be true. But other local school boards in the area, while remaining supportive of the national group, realize that the convention, whether it's used as a tool for information or to reward hard-working volunteers, is a luxury in times like these.
The National School Board Association expects paid attendance to be 7,100 in its Orlando convention, billed as the nation's largest gathering in public education. That's off 30 percent from 1990, when 10,000 people paid to attend in New Orleans; the association attributes the drop to the economy.
Surely, the Baltimore County board would attest to the dedication of its teaching corps, and yet it is asking teachers to take four days without pay. County taxpayers, too, will be asked to shell out more if, as is possible, County Executive Roger B. Hayden makes use of the higher piggyback income tax that the state legislature has now allowed him and other subdivisions.
Sending the entire school board to Orlando is not merely a public relations boo-boo: It's a sign this school board hasn't restructured its thinking to conduct the public's business as the public is demanding.
If there's a less expensive way to do something, do it. If a corner can be cut without a sharp loss in service, cut it. If a convention contingent can be shrunk and still glean some benefits from the convention, shrink it.