Toss out the `code of silence'

Carroll County: Krebs' criticism was stinging, but school board has long needed to change its approach.

October 19, 1999

THERE'S A TIME for harmony and a time for self-criticism. After years of cozy, me-too acquiescence in school administration decisions, the Carroll County Board of Education is faced with an unwavering voice of dissent.

It is a voice that should be listened to, as much by the public as by a decidedly defensive school board.

Susan Krebs, the newest member of the board, fired a broadside last week at the secrecy and arrogant pride of her four fellow board members. Such conduct, she charged, has led to a grand jury investigation of the board.

Ms. Krebs' comments may have stung her colleagues personally, but it was the panel's collective hunker-down mind-set that was the real target of her criticism.

It was not a publicity stunt on her part, but a genuine call for the board to own up to its mistakes and to act as supervisors, instead of confederates, of the school system staff.

School construction gaffes, lawsuits and serious cost overruns have been well-documented and reported by this newspaper. But criticism of the board goes beyond that, to its failure to openly discuss districtwide goals, to its closed discussions on a school system audit, to its spending $800,000 for engineering work on a new high school, even though the site for that project remains uncertain.

If the school board had been more open in discussing problems, the public would have been better served. While the board can't discuss pending legal action against it, previous silence may have masked poor management that is the gist of the legal action now.

If Ms. Krebs broke a board "code of silence," then the board needs to toss out that code.

Rather than engage in further personal sniping, the school board should take the advice to heart and act as a critical review panel of policy and projects, with open public discussion and oversight.

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