Frustration with the Baltimore County Board of Education spilled over Wednesday to the first task force hearing on potential changes to the board's structure.
Approximately 25 people attended the meeting, many expressing negative views about the board's communications policies and recent decisions, along with concern that shifting to a partly elected board may not resolve all issues.
The task force, convened after the last legislative session, will hold two more hearings this month to solicit input on ways to improve the board member selection process, along with accountability and transparency.
Many of those in attendance pushed the panel to move to a hybrid system — in which some board members would be appointed and others elected — arguing that the present board structure effectively shields members from being accountable to the public. Currently, all board members are appointed by the governor.
"It appears there is a disconnect between the community and the school board," said Ernie Schmidhauser, a Reisterstown resident. "The school board is in my view, a rubber stamp. All they have done is work the system so that it has disenfranchised the community from the school."
Speakers discussed the challenges they face in reaching board members directly: Phone numbers and email addresses of board members are not publicized. Only a limited number of people are allowed to speak at board meetings, and some speakers complained that questions are not taken at every meeting.
"I don't know if elected or hybrid is going to make the difference as much as looking at the policy of the school board and how it works with the public," said Mary Molinaro, a Reisterstown parent and former teacher.
Attendees also stressed the need for a board that accurately reflects the community in racial, socioeconomic, and geographic terms as well as professional experience. Many said they support a hybrid board because appointing members would help to round out the panel. However, regardless of the board structure, many said that what's really needed is a closer examination of the traits that school board members need to effectively serve.
Randallstown resident Clifford Collins said he's not locked into any particular structure for the board.
"I'd be very comfortable knowing that whoever those members are, whoever they represent in the county, knows something about education, knows something about the issues," Collins said, "and are in touch with those people who they are responsible for and accountable to. That's the bottom line for me."
The next public hearings will be held tonight at the Essex library and on July 25 at the Towson library. Both hearings will be from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Comments may also be sent by mail or email to state Sen. Kathy Klausmeier's office.
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