Bad idea for the school board Schmoke proposal: Union representative would be in untenable position.

March 16, 1996

THERE ARE many promising ways to "change the culture" in Baltimore City's troubled public school system. Appointing the head of the teachers' union to the school board is not among them.

In announcing his plan to appoint Irene B. Dandridge to the board, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke referred to precedents in which corporations had appointed union representatives to their boards. But this is a very different proposition. Corporate boards do not set day-to-day policy or negotiate contracts. The school board is intimately involved in all these activities. The mayor has said that Ms. Dandridge would abstain from voting on salary and personnel issues. But what about policies governing "working conditions"? For teachers' unions, these battles can often take on as much importance as salary negotiations.

If this appointment goes through, it will apparently be unique in the country and for good reason. For one thing, it's a bad idea for the unions. It is difficult for any union leader to serve two masters. What is Ms. Dandridge's explanation when the board adopts policies teachers dislike, then explains to them that their representative was at the table?

Unions are organized not to serve the public but to support the specific interests of their members. A view of the best interests of the system as a whole, including children and their parents, is not necessarily near the top of their agenda. Asking a union representative to play roles that will frequently clash is not the way to accomplish Mayor Schmoke's goal of reducing tensions between the unions and the school system. This latest ploy will probably do more to heighten tensions than to calm them.

Pub Date: 3/16/96

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