School Board Process is FineMike Burns' concerns with...


June 26, 1994

School Board Process is Fine

Mike Burns' concerns with regard to the selection of the Harford County School Board are unfounded. The Permanent Nominating Caucus has operated successfully for 33 years, and produced school board members who not only have been hard-working and dedicated individuals, but who have guided the Harford County school system to excellent levels of achievement in recent years.

You indicate that "an election would allow for the free exchange of ideas and opinions about the course of education." This year, the caucus required Board of Education candidates to answer 10 specific education-related questions in writing, plus appear at a candidates' forum to answer questions directly from the public. The forum lasted longer than three hours, during which time Board of Education candidates responded to more than 30 questions each. And if anything was left unclear, six weeks were allotted between the forum and the actual voting to obtain more information. Facilitating this kind of exchange of ideas and opinions is exactly what the caucus was striving for this year, and, I believe, was remarkably successful in achieving.

You also want a "board with more representational diversity, from fiscal conservatives to educational liberals." Check out the current school board: That is exactly what we have today.

As for what the other Maryland school districts do, you point out that 10 elect their school boards. So 14 don't. What's the point? Quite frankly, I am more concerned with the results of our students. Somehow, Harford County school children have managed to perform in the top five jurisdictions in terms of academic results in recent years, despite ranking between 20th and 22nd in the state in per-pupil spending. In fact, the current board spends 24th out of 24 districts when it comes to administrative expenses (read: bureaucracy). This is success, no matter how you define the word. Why mess with it?

As for an elected school board, I do not argue the point that it is a more direct method of selection. But it is a fact that little more than 5 percent of the population typically participates in school board elections, making them as open to "manipulation," or more so than the caucus procedure. They also cost money to run -- for both the county and the participants, and they politicize the process. I prefer to have a school board consisting of individuals who are devoted to education, not thinking about how to build a political career.

Regarding the labels you use to describe those involved in making changes to the caucus since last year (liberal left, education establishment, PTA network), they only serve to build walls and stereotypes within our community. The following eight groups participated in rewriting the caucus bylaws: Community Coalition of Harford County; Harford County Chamber of Commerce; Harford County Council of PTAs; Harford County Farm Bureau; Harford County Education Association; Harford County Parks & Recreation Association; Oak Grove Baptist Church, and the Permanent Nominating Caucus.

Not only did these groups represent an extremely broad cross-section of the county, but there was an amazing amount of agreement about how the bylaws should be restructured. Both the modified bylaws and the suggested legislation were presented publicly twice last November, and I sent a copy personally to H. Everett Smith for his input, since he was involved in the prior year's controversy.

The caucus is open to and encourages all non-profit, non-partisan groups to participate; your readers should call 836-3407 for more information. Contrary to "virtually controlling the caucus operations," the PTAs in 1993 represented less than 25 percent of its registered members. That percentage increased in 1994 only because several organizations voluntarily decided not to participate this year.

With the exception of the political organizations (Democrat and Republican clubs), virtually every group that took part in the 1993 Caucus was eligible to participate in the 1994 Caucus. The Caucus Board even accepted a completed application for a federal tax ID number in lieu of the actual number this year, and made copies of the application available.

The Permanent Nominating Caucus is not broken, Mr. Burns. It has become more structured in process to assure that the kind of difficulties encountered in 1993 are not repeated, and more effective in providing its members the opportunity to learn about the candidates for whom they will vote. . . .

Mark Wolkow


The writer is a board member of the Harford County Permanent Nominating Caucus.

Tax and Spend

Don't take my word for it, check it out yourself. After all, I am only a disillusioned taxpayer who is greatly concerned about the future of our government and our country.

I have just received the latest report from the Citizens Against Government Waste.

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