Baltimore County parents explain why now is the time for an elected school board

March 03, 2012

It appears The Sun's editorial staff bought wholesale the opinions of the county executive and school board members regarding the proposed changes to how school board members are selected ("Time out for Balto. Co.," Feb. 24.). In doing so they may well have sabotaged years of work by Baltimore County parents who have struggled for elected representation on the board.

Arguing that the ongoing search for a new superintendent is reason to delay legislation to create an elected school board is a red herring. With 93 percent of the country's school boards already elected, candidates for the superintendent's job would likely be more comfortable with an elected board than with an appointed one.

Moreover, the bill was written so it wouldn't take effect until November of 2014 precisely because the search for a new superintendent is underway. It would give the current appointed board more than two years to work with any new superintendent. In addition, the job pays $300,000 a year — considerably more than the salaries of the county executive, the governor or even the U.S. vice president. Surely a superlative candidate can be found under these circumstances.

The editorial uses the term "redistricting," which erroneously implies a partisan school board election. The truth is that the nine districts described in the bill are new school board districts specifically structured to ensure minority representation and to make board positions non-partisan by avoiding party tickets.

Recent improvements at school board meetings are welcome, but only someone who has never attended one would make the claim they have become "forums for discussion." The public makes comments, the board does not respond. This has not changed.

Do The Sun's editors really think that parents need more time to figure out whether SuperintendentJoe A. Hairstonor the school "governance structure" was the problem? We figured out many years ago that problematic governance and problematic individuals are always intertwined in a system based on appointments, and that the result is a lack of accountability to the public.

The county executive has powerful motives to keep an appointed school board. The school system receives over half of the county budget. Appointed board members are accountable and responsive to the executive, but elected board members are accountable to the public.

If the bill for an elected school board fails to pass this year, does anyone believe the county executive and the appointed school board would consider any other year to be better?

We are at a crossroads. If state lawmakers pass this bill, Baltimore County will finally have a school board that is directly accountable to the public it serves. Without such representation, we risk persistent school overcrowding, stifling classrooms and lack of adequate equipment and resources — all from a appointed school board that will continue to lurch from crisis to crisis.

Laurie Taylor-Mitchell, Leslie Weber and Julie Sugar

The writers are parents of students in the Baltimore County public schools.

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