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Change of Heart: Why I Now Support Elected School Board

Hypocrite? No. Advocate for Baltimore County students? Yes.

I was appointed to the Baltimore County Board of Education in 2005. I applied several times. I am very outspoken for what I believe to be in the best interest of students so I am not always politically sensitive. I am sure I was not the first choice in 2005 to be appointed to the board.

Why did I apply for an unpaid Board of Education postion that demands countless hours if done properly? 

I applied for it because I thought that I could make a difference. I spent 15 years as an education volunteer in Baltimore County Public Schools as a Pine Grove Middle School school improvement team participant, Parkville High School school improvement team; multiple stints as treasurer and president of the Parkville High School PTA, member and chair of the NE Area Educational Advisory Council, Evening High School Study Committee, Elementary Report Card Committee, Calendar Committee, and Coordinator for the five Education Advisory Councils. 

I have served as the president of the Carney Improvement Association for about 10 years. I know that the public schools are the center of the community and that the students sitting in the community classrooms are critical to the success of Baltimore County's and the nation's future.

I also applied because I visited a "standard" high school history classroom at Parkville High School during American Education Week in 1999 and I was horrified at the low level of student learning in the class room, the low expectations of the teacher and  students talking and trying to distract other students who were trying to pay attention.

Why did I change my mind and now think that an elected Baltimore County school board is the only way to go?

I was told by all who "were knowledgeable" including other appointed board members, board presidents, community activists, superintendents and local elected officials that an appointed Board of Education was "the only way to go." I even testified in Annapolis about five years ago in favor of keeping the School Board in Baltimore County appointed. I was a "newbie" to the board so I bought into the incorrect logic that appointment for Board of Education members was the "way to go."

As a Board of Education member, I always tried to focused on students and student achievement. I attended Maryland Association of Boards of Education training (which not many board members do now). During my tenure as a board member, I served on the Curriculum Committee, the Policy Committee, and the Budget and Audit Committee. I attended as many student-focused BCPS events as I could for five years. I did what I thought I was supposed to do as a school board member, including attend BCPS graduations to certify that graduates completed Maryland high school requirements. Some members had to be practically begged to attend graduations.

I noticed that the school board members being appointed were purely political:  Don Mohler's friend from BCPS; Don Mohler's neighbor; former Baltimore County Government employee and wife of an Annapolis lobbyist whose student graduated from a private school; Baltimore County development attorney in practice with Jim Smith's son (and now Jim Smith) who was formerly Baltimore County Liquor Board chair and zoning commissioner; former State Sen, Michael Collins (who worked on Kamenetz's campaign); and finally Kevin Kamenetz's attorney friend.

I also noticed that high ranking BCPS employees retired and went to work for Baltimore County Government. Notably, Anthony Marchione and Don Mohler.  I noticed a few employees moving between jobs in BCPS and Baltimore County Government. Notably, Barry Williams and Bob Barrett. There may be more, but I am not aware of any more.

I have watched Board of Education meetings on television this year. I am appalled at the leadership. The board president is supposed to run the meeting, not dominate it. Then there is the board member who acts clown-like, seeming disengaged from the Board meeting. 

What are these political appointments interested in? They seem to want to do the will of Baltimore County executive and his cronies first and what is best for children was OK if it was in line with what county government wanted. 

No longer were school board members being appointed, who were active in their communities or with education expertise who were ordinary citizens being appointed. No more were appointments the caliber of Rodger Janssen, JoAnn Murphy, Warren Hayman, Joy Shillman, Fran Harris, Phyllis Ettinger being appointed who worked for a cared about the students. Instead it became a game of political connections. 

Other reasons? Too much control by the county executive over which schools get a 20th century amenity like air conditioning. There is no land to build schools in areas where large housing developments have been added along the York Road eorridor? 

(By the way, do you know why there is no land for schools?  Because Baltimore County school board members did not speak up in years gone by to demand that Baltimore County government require developers pay impact fees or set aside land for schools.  In other Maryland counties developers were required to pay impact fees to cover the cost of public infrastructure, such as schools and recreation space.

Baltimore County is the darling of developers because developers do not have to provide any land or money for public infrastructure. That is why wherever there is development there is overcrowding of schools. Also at fault is an inadequate and inappropriate adequate facilities law that defines a school as overcrowded only after the student population is at 115 percent of the physical capacity that the school was designed to house. 

That is why so many school in Baltimore County have trailers as a permanent fixture on the school property. The 15 percent of students greater than the 100 percent physical capacity have to go somewhere! Then-councilman Joe Bartenfelder tried to address this problem with legislation to change the adequate facilities trigger to a more reasonable figure, but of course, his fellow councilmen tabled the legislation.)

So yes, I changed my mind. I am not longer a sheep who "chants" the appoined school board mantra. I have allowed my experience to guide me to the logical opinion that the Board of Education of Baltimore County should be elected just as 96 percent of boards of education in the U.S. are elected.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Ron Burgundy April 21, 2012 at 05:44 PM
Ms O'hare is interested in one and one thing only her "anti" agenda. Her entire tenure can be described as "take blame for nothing and credit for everything.When she was appointed she never uttered a sentence about an elected board,now she's got religion. Don't buy it.
D Flynn April 21, 2012 at 05:57 PM
Ron, I've always loved your candor and unbiased insight. Thanks, honey!
J. Sillman April 24, 2012 at 09:25 PM
Excellent discussion about an elected school board. Meg does speak from experience and has every right and reason to change her mind. I give her credit for an excellent and honest analysis. J. Silman
Meg O'Hare May 01, 2012 at 03:59 PM
Is D.Flynn another disgruntled BCPS employee?
BCPS teacher July 06, 2012 at 01:38 PM
In 1776, we made a declaration that government was to be chosen by the people. President Lincoln reaffirmed this idea in 1863. The Board of Education has governmental authority and I am unaware of any exclusionary clause for its operation. Simply put, it is contrary to the ideals of our country to have an unelected board.

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