State plan to train boards dropped

Carroll opposed proposal to require that local members undergo extra work


A State Board of Education proposal to require training for school board members - having been repudiated by several local boards - has been quashed, according to the state panel's chief.

"There wasn't a whole lot of enthusiasm for it," said Edward L. Root, president of the State Board of Education, in a recent telephone interview. "There was no point in doing it."

The head of Carroll's school board said last week that he was grateful the proposal has been dropped and applauded the state board for soliciting local opinions before reaching a conclusion.

"We believe it was a well-intentioned proposal, but once you started to think more deeply about the implications and the results, it certainly wasn't ready to be pushed forward," said Thomas G. Hiltz, president of Carroll's five-member board.

Hiltz said he thought the state board had heard, and heeded, local members' concerns.

"I appreciate the process the state board and [the Maryland Association of Boards of Education] went through to solicit input before the proposal went any further," Hiltz said. "I felt like we were listened to, and that's a model for how we all should act when considering major policy changes."

Last fall, the state board floated the idea of requiring board members to undergo training and continuing education and asked local boards for their opinions.

Carroll board members were among the systems that weighed in with strong 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 local board wrote in the two-page letter to the state board.

"Once elected, board members devote time, thought and study to the many roles and responsibilities of the position," the letter continued. "Requiring training as an `add-on' ... is insulting to both board members and those who voted them into office."

Several local boards offered similar opinions.

"That concept was strongly rejected by almost all who commented," Patricia B. O'Neill, president of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, wrote in a December letter to Root. "Some pointed out that no other group of similarly elected/appointed officials have such a requirement.

"Others pointed out that many board members work full time and cannot devote as much time as they might like to such training," O'Neill wrote in the letter, a copy of which was provided to The Sun by Carroll school officials. "Any mandate along those lines might well discourage even more individuals from seeking to be elected or appointed to their local school boards."

Under the state board's proposal, new board members would have taken at least 18 hours of orientation developed by the state school board.

The orientation would have covered 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 was distributed to the state's 24 school boards to gauge support for the plan - also would have required continuing education for members after their first year of service.

"The MABE Board of Directors voted to support local efforts to create professional development standards but to reject any effort to require such orientation and continuing education as a matter of regulation," O'Neill wrote in her letter to Root.

MABE's board of directors decided to continue their efforts to encourage board members to voluntarily attend orientation and other professional development programs.

Statewide, most new board members attend MABE's two-day orientation, which provides an overview of board functions, education law, ethics, appeals and superintendent evaluations.

MABE offers dozens of workshops during the year for board members and conducts seminars on specific topics at the request of local boards, said Carl W. Smith, the group's executive director.

Other organizations, such as the National Association of School Boards, also offer seminars and workshops that board members can attend.

The State Board of Education had supported required training because of the sentiment that school board work is becoming increasingly complicated, Root said last fall when local boards began mulling the concept.

Smith said local board members are interested in educating themselves about the issues, the ins and outs of policymaking, and the legal ramifications of their decisions.

"It's not that there's not support for professional development," he said. "But the way in which the state board was going to craft it, it didn't engender much enthusiasm."

Smith said MABE is developing a policy that will outline professional development goals that local boards can use as a template. The organization plans to unveil that policy next month, he said.

"We're going to be asking local boards to look at the policy and adapt it to serve their particular needs," Smith said. "We're not telling any board to adopt the policy, but we're asking them to look at it and consider it."

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