School board, superintendent get a lesson in law

Attorney briefs officials on roles, responsibilities

Howard County

January 17, 2003|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

As the snow came down last night, a Towson education lawyer tried to explain the law and how it defines roles and responsibilities to the Howard County Board of Education, the superintendent and his staff.

"This was my idea," said Sandra H. French, the board chairman. "We come from various backgrounds with various phi- losophies, and the law does not support certain nuances of phi- losophy. I wanted us all to hear the same thing at the same time and start to be able to work together from the same base."

So, seated around a conference table, with notepads, pens and a list of 27 true-false questions, board members and Superintendent John R. O'Rourke listened to attorney Rochelle Eisenberg tell them basically what they already knew: "The Board of Education watches the superintendent, and the superintendent watches everyone else."

Board member James P. O'Donnell has lately been pushing an agenda that says confusion and controversy exist among board members.

"There is some need among board members for a better understanding of what their roles and responsibilities are," O'Donnell said. "In respect to the superintendent, there isn't total agreement."

The total agreement O'Donnell is looking for should take place in part in board meetings in the form of solid and public support for O'Rourke and his proposals, he has said.

However, board member Virginia Charles took that sentiment to task during the session.

"I have concerns with just blanketly adopting without asking lots of questions," Charles said, likening the action to "rubber-stamping."

For the most part, though, the meeting consisted of discussing procedural particulars, which were touched on -- but not quite defined -- during the two-hour session.

They focused on a select few areas, such as how many questions board members should ask of report presenters, what adopting a report means and when it is required, who makes policy and who makes regulations.

The superintendent is putting together a manual of a sorts that will lay out the roles and responsibilities of the board and the superintendent himself, and how they should relate to one another.

Creating such guidelines was a recommendation from a critical 2001 school system management and performance review.

"It said we should have additional [clarification] on policies and governance and the roles and responsibilities of the superintendent and the board," French said. "It basically said we were micromanaging."

French said she thinks the review was essentially useless, as likely will be the guidelines under development without community involvement.

"The education article and [code of Maryland] defines our roles and responsibilities," she said. The policies "can't override the code."

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