School board members in Balto. Co. air their differences at meeting

President of panel, new members trade criticism over published remarks

February 24, 2005|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County school board, which has long prided itself on its civility in public, is showing signs of division.

The discord played out Tuesday night, when the four most recently appointed board members admonished board President James R. Sasiadek for airing his discontent with their performance in a newspaper article instead of confronting them.

Sasiadek, in turn, detailed the behavior that has angered him: a critical comment made in public and what he said was poor attendance at board meetings and other school events. One of the new board members, Frances A.S. Harris, left after five minutes because she said Sasiadek's remarks were "disrespectful" and he clearly didn't intend to apologize.

The gathering of the five board members was held behind closed doors after the adjournment of Tuesday's public school board meeting, but a Sun reporter was allowed in after questioning compliance with open-meeting laws.

The board members' behavior is so unusual that Meg O'Hare, a longtime education activist, sang "United We Stand" at Tuesday's board meeting, urging them to work together.

The conflict began after Sen. Delores G. Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat, sponsored a bill to require Senate confirmation of the governor's appointments to the county school board. Kelley and Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, another sponsor, made no secret of their dissatisfaction with the latest round of appointments. A Senate committee passed the bill on to the full chamber this week.

In August, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. appointed to the board: Harris, legislative assistant to two Republican state delegates; Luis E. Borunda, president of The Signman Inc. and co-founder of the Baltimore Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Rodger C. Janssen, a construction manager for the Maryland Transportation Authority; and Ramona N. Johnson, deputy director of the Fannie Mae Baltimore Partnership Office.

In describing why he supports Kelley's bill, Sasiadek told The Sun: "We're getting people now who take potshots at the board, who don't show up at things, who have never participated."

By "potshots," Sasiadek was referring to a comment Harris made at a budget work session about the amount of money the board spends on meals for itself - particularly dinners to lobby state legislators.

"We've gone to some very expensive places," she said then. "I personally feel horrible."

Tuesday night, Sasiadek told Harris that such concerns are best expressed in private.

"Everything you say and everything you do now is going to be looked at and questioned," he said.

Sasiadek expressed dismay that the school board's curriculum committee canceled a meeting for the first time in "more than 30 years" for lack of attendance. He also talked about the importance of reading board materials and researching issues.

Johnson said she has missed some meetings because she is recovering from major surgery. She said she takes her responsibility as a board member "very, very seriously."

Sasiadek said he decided to go public with his concerns because he wanted to get the new board members' attention.

Sasiadek notified The Sun last week that he and the four new members planned to air their differences at the end of Tuesday's meeting - in public. Instead, the meeting adjourned, and the five board members entered a room down the hall.

Sasiadek and a board attorney said the meeting was not subject to the open-meetings act because a quorum of seven board members was not present. Sasiadek said he let a reporter attend to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

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