Change may be due for leadership of county school system

Editorial

May 25, 2011

Given the epic changes in Baltimore County government this year — a new county executive and five new faces on the seven-member County Council — it comes as no surprise that changes are also happening to the county's Board of Education.

Last week, Gov. Martin O'Malley's office announced that two school board members, board president Earnest Hines and Meg O'Hare, would not be reappointed.

The governor has the authority to appoint all of the county's school board members, but it is likely County Executive Kevin Kamenetz was consulted in the removal of Hines and O'Hare. And it is likely Kamenetz had a role in choosing their replacements, Cornelia Bright Gordon, of Towson, and Michael Collins, of Essex.

Changes in the school board could have implications for the future of the county's school superintendent, Joe Hairston, whose contract expires in a year. Hines and O'Hare generally, like most board members, have gone along with Hairston's policies.

The superintendent is supposed to answer to the school board, but it sometimes appears like it's the other way around in Baltimore County. The board often appears reluctant to mount any kind of challenge to Hairston.

And it is not as if Hairston's track record has been above challenge. Issues like a ban on craft-fair fundraisers at schools, a new classroom-performance testing program that ignited protests and cuts in teaching positions have many among the county's political leaders asking questions.

An especially perturbing issue was Hairston's decision to give new deputy superintendent Renee Foose a salary of $214,000, $52,000 more than she was making at her previous job in Montgomery County as well as considerably more than her predecessor earned in Baltimore County.

The county's delegation to the General Assembly, especially, wants answers from Hairston. But just getting Hairston into a room with them seems an almost insurmountable task.

The superintendent did have a closed-session breakfast meeting with state Sen. Kathy Klausmeier and Del. John A. Olszewski Jr., who chair Baltimore County's Senate and House delegations. Klausmeier hand-delivered a list of questions compiled by her colleagues, although little else seems to have happened.

The superintendent has now promised a May 31 meeting with the county's General Assembly delegation at the school district's Greenwood headquarters. Olszewski said the meeting will be open to anyone who wants to attend.

Meanwhile, a study has been authorized to determine whether the county's all-appointed school board should be changed to a some-appointed, others-elected board, sometimes called a "hybrid."

One might as well read tea leaves to make out the future leadership of the school system. But indications are growing that change is coming.

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