City school board deadline extended again

State seeks a strong pool amid indications that not many are applying

April 02, 2004|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

The hours are long, the pay is nonexistent and the requirements just to be considered are stiff.

On top of that, the agency you'd oversee is facing a fiscal crisis including a $58 million deficit, and your potential co-workers have become the target of scorn and recrimination across Maryland.

Not exactly a dream job.

So perhaps it's not surprising that the application deadline for this position - member of the Baltimore City school board - has been extended twice.

The Maryland State Board of Education, which is advertising three board openings coming up in June, first pushed the original deadline of March 15 to Wednesday. Now the date has been pushed to April 15.

The state says it has "a number of candidates" for the three-year terms.

State school officials wouldn't divulge the figure but said this week that they are certain they will have "the strongest pool of candidates possible" to offer Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Mayor Martin O'Malley when it comes time for the two men to select the three new members.

"This is routine," said state schools spokesman Bill Reinhard.

But there are some indications that the applicant pool is shallow.

"I believe that sometime close to March 15, when I asked [state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick], she had had only one applicant," city schools chief Bonnie S. Copeland said this week.

Reinhard said he was told that there are more than 10 applicants for the three posts. But the state thinks that allowing more time for prospective candidates to apply will ensure a better, more qualified pool, he said.

"We've heard of some other interest out there, and we wanted to let them have an opportunity," Reinhard said.

Not just anyone can apply. Would-be board members must be city residents, must be at least 18 years old and must have a "high level" of knowledge of education or have held a high-level management position.

It is preferred that candidates have at least one child in the schools.

`It is not surprising'

Patricia L. Welch, chairwoman of the school board, said she is doubtful that candidates will be lining up like American Idol contestants soon.

"It is not surprising that, given the climate that the system is operating under at this time, that there would be a reluctance on the part of some persons to consider applying for the school board," Welch said.

The board has taken a beating this school year.

Members have been under unprecedented pressure to resolve a $58 million deficit that threatened to send the school system into insolvency.

A city bailout plan appears to offer a solution, but the board has been relentlessly scrutinized and criticized, with parents, politicians and the public offering harsh judgments.

One coalition of parents and community leaders angrily demanded the school board's resignation. A union leader said the board "should march down to the city jail and turn themselves in to be arrested."

Ehrlich was vocal in his contempt for the board's management capabilities - stopping short of calling its members incompetent - and tried to use legislation to get rid of them.

The board managed to avoid that fate - with help from O'Malley's bailout plan - but not without feeling like the city's favorite pinata.

Undeserved bad rap

"It certainly hasn't been pleasant," said school board member Camay Murphy, one of the members whose seat will become available.

Murphy said she understands the wrath aimed at the board. The city schools have long been battered by problems including low test scores, high dropout rates, inadequate facilities and materials, corruption scandals and elevated lead levels in the water. The ever-worsening financial crisis must have been the last straw, she said.

"It's almost like a mob mentality," Murphy said. "They're so frustrated that they overlook some of the good things that have happened, all of the hard work that was done. [They're] just out looking for some mistake, some blame, someone who was out doing something they weren't supposed to do."

Current and former board members say they are getting a bad rap that is undeserved.

"This board worked harder, felt in its heart more responsibility for the job and asked [more] tough, intelligent questions than any board I have ever been on," said Baltimore developer C. William Struever, a former board member.

Board members past and present tell of working 20- to 30-hour weeks on top of their regular jobs and attending countless meetings and speaking engagements. They describe phones that don't stop ringing, hundreds of e-mail messages jamming their computers and stacks of documents piling up in their living rooms.

All of that for an unpaid position.

Reward of serving

School officials said prospective board members shouldn't be deterred. Some have encouraged people to apply.

The job is demanding but rewarding, they say.

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