Too close for comfort

Baltimore County: School board must be separate from private fund-raising education foundation.

September 21, 1999

THE BALTIMORE County Public Schools Education Foundation collects donations to distribute to county schools. It also serves as an umbrella organization for about 20 independent school fund-raising groups. Since its formation in 1992, the private, non-profit foundation has distributed about $200,000 a year for school programs.

What it should not be, however, is an arm of the school board.

Although assisting county schools is its primary goal, the foundation's close ties to the county Board of Education create at the very least an unusual appearance and, at worst, compromise its mission. Theoretically, the school board can shirk its own duty to adequately fund school programs if it controls the pot of private money the foundation raises.

Under the foundation's charter, the school board can appoint the foundation directors -- a power it has not exercised to date. The foundation's board has been appointing its own members. John A. Hayden, who sits on both the school board and foundation board, wants the charter changed to prevent the school board from appointing foundation members.

Mr. Hayden may not be the best person to make this argument, since he's an example of the co-mingled relationship of these two groups. But his point is valid.

The school board is charged with setting county education policy, preparing the budget and hiring professionals to run the department. The foundation's mission is to finance programs, activities and materials the county education budget doesn't cover.

Currently, the school board could use foundation dollars to patch shortfalls it creates. Some people have indicated a reluctance to donate because of this possibility, according to Mr. Hayden.

Rather than risk support for public education, the foundation must operate independently from the school board and members shouldn't serve on both boards.

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