School councils to stay separate

Baltimore County board won't combine five local advisory groups into one

October 31, 2005|By LIZ F. KAY .. | LIZ F. KAY ..,SUN REPORTER

Five regional advisory councils will continue to pass concerns on to the Baltimore County school board, rather than a proposed, consolidated body.

The school board has accepted a recommendation that the existing framework for regional councils be retained, and its policy review committee will evaluate proposals designed to enable the panels to work more effectively.

Despite arguments that the current system suffers from a lack of participation, a single body would lose some of the neighborhood connection, council leaders said.

"There's a great deal of local pride within the local advisory councils," said Meg O'Hare, volunteer coordinator of the councils. "They still felt they needed to have that local presence."

She presented the results of an internal review at Tuesday's school board meeting.

Each council represents a geographic area of Baltimore County and is to obtain public input on education issues, O'Hare said. The councils typically meet monthly.

Last spring, former school board President James R. Sasiadek suggested reorganizing the councils given the struggle to fill the volunteer positions.

"It's kind of waxed and waned over the years," said Maggie Kennedy, coordinator of the first area councils in 1976.

After meeting twice, however, the councils abandoned discussion of consolidating. Instead, the groups developed ways to become more efficient, such as coordinating their meetings to address the same topics at the same times, O'Hare said.

They held a joint meeting last month to discuss a topic that affects the county as a whole: reading and writing instruction. In January, they plan to meet to discuss school crowding and will hold a hearing on the capital budget in April, she said.

The councils also recommended allowing members to be reappointed for their three-year terms and changing the number of seats on each council from 17 to 15, with up to two student members.

Northeast Council Chairman Walter R. Hayes was pleased by the news. He said the councils allow room for dissenting opinions.

His group has advocated for a new high school in the northeast or central part of the county.

"Advisory councils are supposed to give advice," he said. "The board doesn't have to accept any of that advice, but they should at least listen to it."

School board President Tom Grzymski said yesterday that the policy review committee would consider some of the changes presented.

He was glad that the review found that people serving on the panels didn't represent just a few schools in each area but rather diverse interests.

The county school board names new council members to fill vacancies. New appointments had been suspended while the group considered streamlining the bodies.

However, given the councils' decision to retain their current structure, the school board resumed appointing new members. At its Sept. 20 meeting the school board had approved Sarah J.M. "Jody" Shafer of Perry Hall for the Northeast Educational Advisory Council, after hearing early reports of the councils' recommendations.

liz.kay@baltsun.com

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