Anne Arundel school board approves new citizen advisory panel

The Anne Arundel County school board has approved a revamped countywide Citizen Advisory Committee, appointing a 29-member executive panel that it says will strengthen the panel's ability to advise the board on education-related matters.

The board appointed 26 county residents Tuesday to join three representatives from countywide parent groups on the CAC. The retooling comes about a year after tensions between the CAC and the board prompted CAC Chairman Tom Frank to resign, saying that what he thought was the group's function was not consistent with what the school board expected. In June, the school board and Superintendent Kevin Maxwell restructured the committee of volunteers, citing aims to increase citizen involvement and ensure diversity of parents and citizens from throughout the county.

The executive panel, which was chosen from more than 70 applicants, includes two members from each school cluster — one representing elementary schools and one representing secondary schools — as well as two countywide representatives. Applications were screened by a four-member committee that included school board member Deborah Ritchie and Teresa Tudor from the county schools' office of school and family partnerships.

"I'm really thrilled that we had representatives from all over the county," said Ritchie. "There has been a lot of concern that it's a top-down kind of thing. When they really see the process, then they will understand that it's about looking at the entire county and the issues that affect everybody. We want to hear what people are saying."

Several members of the executive panel have previously served as CAC members at the countywide or local level. They include Brad Myers, who recently chaired the CAC at Severna Park Middle School. He said that the upside to the restructuring is that it will lead to a larger level of involvement throughout the school system.

The downside, he said, is "if there's not enough effort put forward to having local people involved in the same functions, does the group just become a figurehead-type group versus a group that actually is advising in a way that is going to improve the school system?"

"Given that there will be a larger group and a number of people who haven't been involved with this process, I'm not sure what to expect. I do expect there will be an evolution," Myers said. "The board is going to make it clear, and part of this process has been that the board wants this group to work with them in a particular fashion. What they don't want is a group that's fighting them when it's supposed to be an advisory group."

Joanna Conti, who was named CAC chair last school term, had applied for a position on the committee but subsequently withdrew her application. Conti said that she was proud of what the CAC accomplished under her leadership, but she added, "I never really felt that the board was very supportive in the direction I was taking the CAC. I decided they would be better off being able to start completely fresh, and I will be happy to help the CAC in any way I can."

Not all board members support the revamped CAC.

"I personally don't feel that the CAC is moving in the right direction," said board member Amalie Brandenburg, who cast the lone vote against the appointed panel. "I feel like it should be more of a grass-roots effort. The intention for the CAC is for citizens to advise us on what's going on in the county and what they're concerns are. You lose that portion of it when you start appointing people."

After Frank's resignation, Vice Chairman Jim Snider succeeded him but subsequently resigned. Meetings between the CAC and school board members followed, and the committee was restructured. Previously the volunteers were appointed to the countywide CAC by principals.

In addition to appointing CAC members, the board will not require that local CACs be formed. It will require that members commit to attending a minimum number of meetings, arguing that in the past it was difficult to get consistency among attendees.

Tudor said the new CAC will meet Oct. 13 with school board officials, who will outline the CAC's role. The group will also elect its leadership during the meeting, Tudor said.

Tudor said members will be informed about specific CAC policy and regulations to ensure that they understand what the board expects.

"We really do want it to be a functioning group where they feel that they can bring anything they want forward," said Tudor, who added that the board also can give the CAC a topic that it wants feedback on. "We're hopeful that when people on the board have questions, and not just board members but those from different departments, they will say, 'Make sure you run that by the CAC.' We'll know that we have parents from every region [of the county] there."

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