Carroll school board opposes state plan to train members


Carroll County school board members, bristling at a State Board of Education proposal to require training for new board members, penned a letter to state officials last week to register their unanimous opposition.

"In Carroll County, informed citizens take into consideration the qualities and experience of those they choose to represent them on education matters when they cast their vote," the five-member board wrote in the two-page letter.

"Once elected, board members devote time, thought and study to the many roles and responsibilities of the position," according to the letter, a copy of which was provided to The Sun by local school officials. "Requiring training as an `add-on' ... is insulting to both board members and those who voted them into office."

Under the proposal, new board members would take at least 18 hours of orientation, which would be developed by the state school board.

The orientation would cover such topics as budget, finance and business operations; local board operations; and statutory requirements, including the Open Meetings Act, the Public Records Act, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and ethics laws.

The draft proposal - which is being circulated to school boards across the state for discussion - would also require continuing education for members after their first year of service.

The training would help prepare members for the "increasingly complicated" task of running a school system, said Edward L. Root, president of the state school board.

"They handle millions and millions of dollars, and there are significant legal aspects to their jobs," he said.

As of late last week, Root said he had not seen the letter that Carroll's board members addressed to him.

"There has been some concern [among state board members] that we need to be sure these people are as ready as possible," Root said in a telephone interview. "This is not about Big Brother that wants to put his thumb on you and tell you what to do."

But Carroll board members, during a recent board meeting, voiced opposition to the proposal, particularly that it would be mandatory.

"It's a solution in search of a problem," board Vice President Thomas G. Hiltz said. "Most board members are interested in developing themselves. I see the benefit in training, but I don't see the need to mandate it."

Cynthia L. Foley, who has been on the board since last year, said she worried what else the state board might require.

"What else is down the road? Requiring more hours to be spent on board work?" she asked rhetorically.

Foley said she has learned the most from working alongside other board members.

But Root said "it doesn't work to let them learn as they go. They need to have a starting point."

In Carroll, when new members join the board, they undergo an informal orientation, meeting with local school officials, Foley said.

Root said that while many school boards offer in-house orientation, "there are federal and state aspects, so [local orientation only] may not be sufficient."

Carroll board President Gary W. Bauer said local members also attended workshops, seminars and conferences throughout the year for "ongoing training."

As an example, Bauer said he had recently attended a national math seminar in San Francisco, where he learned about the latest initiatives in that field.

"It's up to each individual board member how much time [he or she] wants to put into it," he said.

Statewide, new board members are also encouraged to voluntarily attend a two-day orientation offered by the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, which provides an overview of board functions, education law, ethics, appeals, and superintendent evaluations.

"The orientation I went through with MABE was wonderful," Foley said. "But I would highly recommend not making it mandatory."

In their letter to Root, Carroll's board members urged the state board to work with MABE to devise a voluntary orientation that would address the state board's concerns.

Root said that as boards expressed concerns, the state board might be able to address them.

Root stressed that there was "nothing in the official process" regarding the idea to require training and continuing education. He said the idea was being floated to gauge opinion and interest.

"If there is significant opposition statewide, we may not do it," Root said. "We're probably not going to force it on them."

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