The unfortunate thing about Tom Florestano's appointment to fill a five-month vacancy on the Anne Arundel County Board of Education is that he is still president of Anne Arundel Community College. The good thing is that he is a proven, effective leader who knows what he's doing when it comes to education, and heaven knows, this bumbling school board can use someone like that.
Weighing the negatives against the positives, we think Dr. Florestano's appointment comes out on the plus side. (He was County Executive Robert R. Neall's choice to fill in for board member Jo Tollenger, who resigned.) Yes, he has made it clear that the community college budget will remain his top priority. Yes, it would be better if he were already retired from the college and free of potential for a conflict of interest. But it is impossible to believe that he would undermine the school system for the sake of the college.
And since when has it become unethical for a person to serve as a patron of more than one public entity? This notion that supporters of causes and special interests must be exclusively devoted has gotten out of hand. So has the idea that the budget
process is a war in which it's every public servant for himself. If Dr. Florestano supports a raise for college employees, there's no reason why he cannot also speak out in favor of more money for supplies for public schools. If the police chief likes reading, he ought to be able show up at a hearing on the library budget to ask the county to buy more books.
Remember, too, that during the next five months, the board faces pressing issues besides money -- namely, leading the system out of the turmoil of the past year and finding a new superintendent. These are areas where Dr. Florestano can help. Since his arrival at the college in 1979, he has proven adept at changing a troubled institution for the better. He knows the school system. And he knows all about looking for a replacement -- he has kept a close eye on the national search for a new college president since he announced his retirement last fall.
This is a short-term job; Dr. Florestano will not seek a full term. But if, between now and June 30, he does nothing more than prod a reluctant board into canvassing the nation for the most qualified superintendent it can find, he will have justified his brief, controversial tenure.