A better balance of power An executive-appointed school board means accountability.

March 28, 1996

OPPONENTS OF A Senate bill that would give the county executive, instead of the governor, authority to appoint school board members in Anne Arundel County are paranoically afraid the measure would upset the balance of power between the executive and school system.

The problem with their argument is that, at present, there is no balance of power. The current rules and laws make school boards free agents. Unlike any other department, the board can defy the executive and County Council's directions on how money should be spent. It is not accountable to the public because it does not raise taxes. It is not accountable to the governor, who pays no attention to local school boards. It can ask for anything in the name of "the children," knowing elected leaders must do the dirty work of raising revenue, cutting services or telling parents "no."

Tension is built into the relationship between Maryland school systems and executives. But constructive tension is not what we see in Anne Arundel. What we see is a gross lack of coordination that damages the quality of education and government efficiency.

The two are on entirely different pages when it comes to the crucial issue of development and planning. We are well into the era of stagnant revenues and anti-tax fervor, yet the school system often seems not to accept this reality. Last month, the board submitted a budget $10 million greater than County Executive John G. Gary says the county can afford. It submits $50 million capital programs while many schools sit half-empty. It insists on frivolous programs and deluxe computer systems even as some parents complain that their schools lack basics. It would have us believe children are being taught on the cheap, when schools received $7 million in new operating funds from the county this year.

Giving the executive the right to appoint school board members is not a power grab. It is a mechanism for giving the person responsible for spending greater control -- but still not absolute power -- over a service that accounts for 60 percent of the county budget. It would make board members accountable to someone, and give parents of students someone to hold accountable. That would be far better for children than the disjointed system we have now.

Pub Date: 3/28/96

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