In his letter "Time to devise a better plan for county school board" (April 10) Mel Mintz makes two arguments that absolutely demand response.
First, in words that almost parrot language Kevin Kamenetz used in dismissing the idea of an elected school board as an opportunity for the public to ask for golden doorknobs to classrooms, Mr. Mintz begins by fearing the introduction of "many unnecessary frills to the school budget." He continues with a series of warnings of what "would" and "could" happen if district-elected representatives were on the board. No evidence, no proof, just pure sky-is-falling speculation.
Second, his suggestion that a better plan would be to have an appointed "parallel board" to watch over and report the proceedings of the first appointed board is surely an idea that has never before seen the light of day. How Mr. Mintz's parallel board of watchdogs would actually function is never explained, perhaps because it defies explanation.
Both Mr. Mintz and County Executive Kamenetz need to be brought into the real world of American public education in the 21st century. The National School Board Association has reported that, in 2008, 96 percent of the school districts in the United States had elected school boards, including two-thirds of the 25 largest districts. As of June, 2009, 31 states now have only elected boards. In New Jersey, for example, 538 districts have elected boards. There is good reason for this overwhelming rejection of an appointed board in favor of the elected model.
In their February, 2011, study of the evidence supporting an elected representative school board for the Chicago public school system, Pauline Lipman and Eric Gutstein of the Collaborative for Equity and Justice in Education, University of Illinois at Chicago, began by observing that "schools are part of our foundation" and exist to "educate and prepare the next generation of democratic participants in our society." A school board's role is to "provide leadership, policy direction and oversight to drive improvement." Thus it becomes the board's responsibility to ensure that schools work to advance the public interest — the health, education and welfare of all members of the community.
Underlying the broad confidence in elected boards, Ms. Lipman and Mr. Gutstein continue, is the belief that the democratic process is a means for community members to implement a vision of the common good. "Public education remains the policy domain in which the citizens have the greatest opportunity for participation and democratic control."
By contrast, we have seen for too long how an appointed board can refuse to be responsive and accountable to the community, and can use clandestine meetings and decision making to dismiss the concerns of the public as if they were the petulant whinings of a child. The current board is in the pocket of the county executive. It his control over them that was the real motive behind his strong-arming Sheila Hixson to thwart passage of HB 481. And in light of the history of public education and the direction in which the rest of the country is moving forward, that is truly a sad commentary on the Kamenetz administration.
George W. Nellies, Towson