City parents demand elected school board

At rally, about 50 people, including students and activists, urge greater accountability

October 31, 2006|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,Sun reporter

Saying Baltimore's students are being "robbed" of an adequate education, about 50 parents, students and activists rallied outside city school system headquarters last night to demand an elected school board.

The demonstrators called for board members to be elected every two years, paid an annual salary of $70,000 to work full time and be required to have children who have been enrolled in city public schools continuously from the elementary grades on.

The board is appointed jointly by the mayor and the governor, but the parents feel it does not represent their interests.

"We can't hold the school board accountable for any decisions they make," said James E. Williams Sr., a leader of the newly formed group Parents Organizing Parents, before last night's rally. "They have a record of making bad decisions for our children."

The group, which organized the rally, is headed by Williams, the Parent-Teacher Organization president at Dr. Roland N. Patterson Sr. Academy, and Linda Muhammad, the PTA president at Govans Elementary. Muhammad organized parents at her school this summer to support ousted Govans Principal Edith Jones, who was forced out of her job after asking a judge to give a lenient sentence to a teacher convicted of cocaine possession.

Williams said he is troubled by the board's lack of public accountability, particularly with budget documents. For example, it was only last week that the board started posting its public session agendas and other materials online, something that's routinely done by suburban school districts.

He noted that most board members do not have children enrolled in the city schools, and those who do live in the city's more affluent communities. He said his group wants to see school board members living in the neighborhoods with the most challenged schools, and sending their children to them.

Of the current board, he said, "They have a history of not listening to the people who have a vested interest."

School board Chairman Brian D. Morris declined to comment about the rally.

State legislation would be necessary for the city to make the change from an appointed to an elected school board. Rally organizers say they are looking for legislators to sponsor such a bill.

It is unclear how such legislation would fare in Annapolis. Henry Fawell, a spokesman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican campaigning for re-election next week, said the governor has not taken a position on the issue. A spokeswoman for Ehrlich's opponent, Democratic Mayor Martin O'Malley, did not immediately return phone calls yesterday.

More than half of Maryland's 24 school systems have elected boards.

The composition of the city school board has been an issue in the gubernatorial race pitting Ehrlich against O'Malley. Ehrlich has refused to reappoint three members, including Morris, whose terms expired this summer and who are supported by O'Malley.

In addition, the governor and the mayor have yet to fill two vacancies on the board created by resignations this summer - even though the law requires them to fill those positions within 60 days.

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