For a better school board Change how members are chosen, and give them an auditor

October 05, 1995

PUBLIC SUPPORT for a change in the way school board members are selected continues to grow, and with good reason. The current system lack strong accountability. The governor names board members, but he has neither a personal nor a political stake in local school board appointments. Citizens unhappy with a board member or board decision have no one to hold responsible.

The best solution -- the one that would provide accountability and force the school system to cooperate with the rest of the government -- is to hand appointment power to the executive, with confirmation by a County Council majority. The schools are the most expensive and perhaps the most important part of the government; the executive ought to bear responsibility for how they are run.

State lawmakers are deciding whether to introduce legislation to alter the selection process. Parents and educators who care about this issue should attend a meeting with their state representatives on Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Glen Burnie Improvement Association.

It would be a mistake, however, to think that a change in the selection process will solve the school system's problems. The main cause of some of the system's biggest embarrassments -- a $7.5 million overrun on construction projects, for instance -- is its inability to evaluate financial information coming out of the superintendent's office. Board members have no mechanism for assessing the accuracy of the administration's figures and the economic worthiness of projects as viewed in the context of the entire government. They are part-time volunteers, without the background to deal with complex financial matters. As board member Thomas Twombly notes, his colleagues "have pet issues and projects. They do not always see clearly from a money perspective."

Board members need an auditor to review the fiscal impact of everything the administration proposes, much as County Council members use an auditor to tell them whether the county executive's figures add up. They need an adviser to help them get past their inclination to approve programs that may be worthy but simply aren't affordable.

The public should be pushing for this watchdog position as strongly as it is lobbying for a change in the school board selection process.

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