School board's revolving door Anne Arundel County: Facing rapid turnover, body seems to react rather than initiate.

June 27, 1996

ANNE ARUNDEL County's Board of Education seems to be unraveling. Just as Gov. Parris N. Glendening is preparing to select a new member of the board, another vacancy has opened. In a terse, two-word letter of resignation, Thomas R. Twombly abruptly quit less than halfway through his second term.

Considering the difficult issues facing the board -- balancing diminishing financial resources and increasing demands -- this rapid turnover means even greater delay in finding solutions. Three vacancies have to be filled; those left by Maureen Carr-York, who asked not to be reappointed, Mr. Twombly and the student representative. Depending on how quickly Mr. Twombly's replacement is selected, it may be next fall before there is again a full complement of school board members.

With a financial squeeze confronting Anne Arundel public schools, it is disappointing to see that the board has yet to coalesce around a common strategy. Instead, members seem to engage in customary hand-wringing about eliminating programs and keeping teaching and administrative positions vacant to meet budget targets.

Even though it is obvious the county's school-aid contribution will be just enough to satisfy the state's maintenance-of-effort requirement over the next few years, the board has yet to develop a strategy to improve student performance with few new dollars.

Part of the problem is board members' tendency to pursue their own agendas. The lack of collegiality is apparent to even the most casual observer. Also hindering the board is the lack of a strong leader who can move it to anticipate problems and successfully resolve them.

For example, at a recent meeting to discuss suggested ways to economize, members examined random suggestions, such as installing water-flow restrictors or charging outlandish fees for students to play sports, rather than seeking to develop a coherent financial plan. Too often, this board has been reacting rather than initiating.

Unless the governor names some top-flight leaders to the board, Anne Arundel's citizens are likely to continue to see a stymied board of education incapable of coping with the system's pressing problems.

Pub Date: 6/27/96

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