Critics of Carroll's school board lack needed history...


August 22, 1999

Critics of Carroll's school board lack needed history, perspective

As much as I hesitate to get back into the fray, I can no longer sit back and read the allegations being made about our school system and say nothing. After 10 years as a member of the Carroll County Board of Education, perhaps I can add another perspective and a little history.

Please realize that I also accept some of the responsibility and/or blame for problems the system faces that had their origin years earlier. But also understand that there are other sides to each issue than the ones presented by the newspaper or in other letters to the editor.

Issue one: the audit. First, we must understand the difference between a financial audit and a performance audit. The school system's financial audit is done each year by the same firm that audits the county's books and the results are shared. Any changes recommended are promptly implemented and the system always has gotten good reports. Another check and balance in our system is that the county commissioners have approval of any large changes that are made.

A performance audit is a careful inspection of how efficient and effective operations are. It is time-consuming for staff and expensive, but necessary. It is not done by accountants. When one was done in collaboration with the commissioners years ago, the results were shared but ignored, perhaps because the need for more personnel and additional funding were the findings.

Not the desired results? There is always a control struggle between the two elected boards, each believing they are doing what they are commissioned to do. They have now agreed to work together on another audit. I am, however, loath to see dollars come out of the budget intended for the children, so I trust the commissioners will pay for it.

Issue two: Cranberry Station Elementary School. There is much information that cannot be shared due to legal constraints. I was disappointed to read that the former contractor's suit will be allowed to proceed. More education dollars down the legal drain. The question of doctored videotapes is too ridiculous to think about. Board meetings are taped to be edited for showing on the educational channel. Three-hour meetings must be reduced to 20 minutes and include those portions of most interest to the general public.

The contractor needed this record of the meeting for yet another lawsuit in which he is involved. I think that tells us something, too. Our system's concerns are to get the school built well and on time. Changing contractors does not aid that end. To do so was only a last resort.

Francis Scott Key, the oldest high school in the county, is finally getting enlarged and renovated. No more leaky roofs, but still problems with waste treatment. Every attempt is made to build schools where city water and sewer is available, which, of course, did not exist when FSK was first built. We have to build the schools where the children are.

Working together

I do know for a fact that the Maryland Department of the Environment and the county worked with school officials every step of the way in this project. I am glad the board and the commissioners agreed to turn this treatment plant problem back to the county.

When a board member, I was continually frustrated by the fact that what I thought of as education dollars were being used for road improvements, sidewalks and sewage systems. I understand the need for all that infrastructure for a school, but we could hire a couple of teachers for the price of a turn lane.

Speaking of building schools (which we have to do so much more of as the county continues this growth), too frequently when we would finally get funding for a new school, we would have to beg and fight for the dollars to staff it.

Speaking of fighting for dollars, we are not the only county where county government and school boards are at odds over dollars. I do not know if Maryland is ready to do as so many other states and make school systems funding authorities.

I have had some commissioners (former ones) tell me they would be more than happy to turn over that responsibility. The school system would then have to directly convince the public that a raise in the school tax or the passing of a bond issue was a real need and deserved to be funded. I am not advocating this, but I believe it is worth thinking about.

Engaging community

Now to the question of putting citizens on various school committees. Citizen business people are invaluable on the Career and Technology Advisory Board. Parent citizens participate on school improvement teams. PTA citizens are the lifeblood of our schools.

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