The conflict between the Anne Arundel school system and the county government surrounding overcrowding in the schools rises from some longstanding confusion over lines of authority. There's fundamental disagreement about who holds the power on school-related decisions.
On the one hand, the school system is semi-autonomous; it is not a department like public works, which answers directly to the county executive. Therefore, it likes to present itself as a world apart from -- and above -- the rest of county government.
The fact remains, however, that the schools are just another part of the government. They're terribly political. They're hugely important, but no more so than police and fire protection.
And in the end, the county executive and the County Council -- not the board -- are accountable for many major school decisions because they control the money.
For the school-county relationship to work, both sides must know what the other is doing. And the school system must accept the county as the final arbiter of decisions involving money. Neither of these conditions is being met now, and the ramifications are potentially disastrous.
For an example, see what's happening with school construction. County officials are making decisions about new development based on the assumption that school redistricting is a reasonable option.
But it can't force the school system to redraw boundaries. One board member even threatens to sue the county over newly approved developments in West County; the county has little good to say about the school system, either.
The two must get along better than this. Regular meetings between board members and County Executive John G. Gary would be a logical place to start.
Ironically, Mr. Gary made improved school communications one of his first pledges upon winning office.
He needs to know the school officials' opinions on what is best for the welfare of students; the board needs to understand what is economically feasible and what is not.
And when the two sides can't agree, board members need to realize that the school system is only semi-autonomous, not fully autonomous -- and that the buck stops not with them, but with the county executive.