Baltimore county school board needs community representation

August 27, 2011

As reported in The Sun, the state legislature formed a summer study task force to examine the current school board selection process in Baltimore County ("Elections for school boards weighed," Aug 4). The group was formed after legislators received numerous complaints from parents and community groups regarding BCPS and their poor handling of issues such as botched school renovations, major overcrowding in schools, AIM, and banning PTA craft fairs and community groups from public schools.

I have been involved in these issues over the past four years, and my frustration has reached a boiling point. Each time a problem arises, the BCPS administrators at Greenwood deny the problem, and then the board ignores it. Our only recourse has been to complain to our elected leaders to intervene on our behalf. Why? Because our lawmakers represent us, and our school board does not.

Over the past four years, the appointed board has rubber stamped every decision and priority of the superintendent – when in reality the superintendent works for the board. This system of board member appointments by the governor is not working. The task force is also considering a nominating convention, in which a select few decide who should be allowed on the school board and makes the presumption that the public is unable to make smart choices. In this method, board members would only be accountable to the nominating committee, not to the public they serve.

In an elected system (used by 93 percent of the school districts in the country), the public learns the qualifications of all candidates for their district and can select the most qualified in non-partisan elections. But this method also has the potential to result in a lack of minority representation on the board.

A hybrid board, with elected members each representing their district, and some appointed members at-large, has all the benefits of an elected board, with the benefit of maintaining diversity. All board members would be equal in power, vote, and compensation. The board would be accountable and responsive to the public they serve.

The task force held three meetings with public comment, and at all three meetings, the speakers were overwhelmingly in favor of change. If the task force does not reach a majority decision on how the selection process should change from the current appointment process, and simply issues a report, the group will be viewed by the public as a failure. The public will remember this failure at election time.

School board members are accountable only to those who put them in power. Why not allow that group to be the public?

Julie Sugar

The writer is the former PTA president at Dundalk Elementary and Ridgely Middle School and current PTA president at Loch Raven High School.

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