Baltimore County school board appointee draws fire for conservative stances

Liz Bowie
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
An appointee to the Baltimore County school board is under fire for conservative stances on a blog.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, the county teachers union and an immigrant rights group are asking Gov. Larry Hogan to reconsider appointing Ann Miller to the county school board, saying the conservative views she espouses as a blogger amount to discrimination.

Miller, a blogger for Red Maryland Network and Baltimore County Republican Examiner, has written extensively about her opposition to in-state college tuition for students who are in the country without legal documentation, same-sex marriage, transgender rights and the Common Core educational standards. She also has called on parents to opt out of state testing for their children.

"An effective school board member must be tolerant and respectful of Baltimore County's increasingly diverse population and must be an advocate for all children attending public school," Kamenetz wrote in a letter to Hogan this week.

Kamenetz, a Democrat, said he believed that Miller does not meet that standard and asked the governor to choose someone else.

In an interview, Miller said she was not aware of opposition to her appointment.

"The school board is a nonpartisan position. I am not interested in talking about it," Miller said. "My views are out there. People can read them. I don't feel I need to answer."

Hogan spokesman Matthew Clark said the Republican governor believes Miller would be a good addition to the board as a "strong advocate for change."

"She is willing to raise the important questions on issues around education in Baltimore County, and that is what members of the school board are supposed to be doing," Clark said.

Miller is set to be sworn in Monday to a three-year term on the 12-member board. She will be an at-large member representing the entire county, rather than a single district. School board members are not paid.

Her appointment comes at a crucial time because the board is expected to vote soon on whether to give Superintendent Dallas Dance another four-year contract. The board also is facing decisions on how to pay for upgrades to aging facilities.

Critics said they don't believe Miller can be open-minded enough to make decisions that affect a diverse population of students, teachers, parents and administrators. The school system has a student population of 110,000 in which white students are now a minority and the number of immigrant students is growing.

Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA de Maryland, an immigrant rights group, wrote to the governor this week, saying that Miller's appointment would be an obstacle to promoting "fair and equitable access to resources and educational diversity."

Del. Stephen Lafferty, a Democrat who represents Baltimore County and opposes the appointment, said he welcomes "different viewpoints" on the board. But, he added, "I am concerned that she has made certain judgments that are going to have a negative impact on her ability to be fair."

Some critics said they believe Miller's views cross the line from a conservative political stance to discrimination.

"My issue is not her differing political opinion but that her views on race, ethnicity and gender are discriminatory," said Baltimore County school board member Marisol Johnson, who opposes Miller's appointment.

Others say Miller has been misunderstood.

School board member Kathleen Causey said she believes Miller will work hard on the board and spend time researching issues. Causey said she has gotten to know Miller through training given to new board members.

"When we talk of equity, all of that is meaningful to her," Causey said. I think she will be a good board member."

Since September, the governor's office has received at least half a dozen letters from parents, teachers and members of the community asking him to reconsider Miller's appointment. Concerned parents began researching Miller's political writings in July, shortly after she was named to the position that becomes vacant this month.

In a blog on the Dream Act in 2011, Miller said the law granting tuition help to immigrants in the country illegally would be too costly to taxpayers, and suggested that it was a way for Democrats to gain the upper hand in elections.

"This bill is not about access to college folks. It's about rewarding the Democrats new voting bloc: illegal immigrants. Expect there to be a huge push for illegals to vote next year," Miller wrote. At the time, she worked on a failed petition drive to have the Dream Act overturned.

In a October 2012 article about gay marriage, Miller suggested that the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community wanted to pass the state's same-sex marriage bill because it wanted more than legal equality.

"They want social equality and have no qualms about asking the government to force it on citizens through legislation in order to achieve it. They have no qualms about pushing to indoctrinate our children in the school system without our knowledge, much less consent."

Miller said she views gay marriage as an attack on marriage, family and religion.

Abby Beytin, president of the Baltimore County teachers union, said in an interview this week that many members find Miller's views on gays offensive.

"We strongly believe in social justice for all and can't abide her narrow-minded attacks," Beytin said.

Miller also has raised concerns about public schooling on her blog. In 2014, she wrote a post saying she had withdrawn one of her three children from public school because of the Common Core standards and the way they have been implemented. The standards have come under attack by opponents who say local school districts should have more control over curriculum.

When she was appointed, Miller said in an interview that she has one child in her senior year at Hereford High School, another in a private school and a third who is being home-schooled.

She has continued to blog her views on education this year. She recently wrote that school systems should not try to close the achievement gap between groups of disadvantaged students, but allow equal opportunity for all students to succeed.

"Disparities in outcomes are a natural and unavoidable result of the nature of both humanity and public education," she said.

In another blog post this year, she came to the defense of white men under age 65, saying they are the only ones who do not have laws protecting them from discrimination.

Some opponents say they are Republicans who voted for Hogan and believe that Miller's views are much more conservative than Hogan's stances.

A Baltimore County teacher, Kevin-Douglas Gevedon Olive, wrote to Hogan thanking him for some of his actions as a new governor, but said that many other Republicans would better represent the county on the school board.

"My perception of you as a moderate Republican leader is one of tolerance and open-mindedness. ... We can all disagree on the morality of various life-style choices and orientations, but Ann Miller is a vocal opponent of gay and transgender rights. ... Her rhetoric is insensitive at best, and mean spirited at worst."

Another letter writer told Hogan she had voted for him for governor, but that she was concerned about the appointment. County resident Sarah Destromp said Miller doesn't represent either "the America of today or the Maryland we love."

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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