Just speak up [Editorial]

It’s cold out. The kids had practice. They’re going to do what they want anyway. Let someone else speak up.

And we’re sure there are countless thoughts and comments similar to those that serve as excuses people use when they don’t speak up not only when they should, but also when they’re given repeated opportunities.

The current example is the budget proposed by Barbara Canavan, superintendent of Harford County Public Schools. There are five public opportunities for comment, including Wednesday evening when no one showed up. Literally, no one from the public came to the meeting to have their say.

Readers of the editorial columns of this page know this is a perpetual theme for The Aegis: Show up. Speak up. Stand up. The only way to have a chance to see what you want done or changes made to those things you don’t is to be heard.

Parents need not be reminded that one of the goofy proposals Canavan put forth was to charge students a participation fee to play a sport. It was goofy solely because the amount of money generated by those fees was so miniscule that it didn’t have an impact on the budget.

That silliness was so successful Canavan had the brilliant idea a couple of years later to close the swimming program because of costly repairs needed to school system’s three swimming pools. She also proposed expanding the fees program to assess them against students in drama programs and some other extracurricular activities.

Thankfully, the school board put the kibosh on that plan and found the money in the budget to not only repair the pools, but also to save the interscholastic swimming program.

Was that the right course of action? Who knows? What we know is that parents, students and the rest of the community were late getting involved before their presence was felt.

It was unusual for the Harford County Board of Education to act courageously and override Canavan’s wishes. As a matter of course, people usually got on the school board, mostly by appointment, but also now by election in recent years, and failed to understand the relationship between the school board and the superintendent of schools.

The school board, though it far too often has served as a rubber stamp for the superintendent, is not designed to solely do the superintendent’s bidding. Unfortunately, the history of school boards in Harford County has board members cowering in front of the superintendent, not unlike Dorothy, et al, when they first meet the wizard in that Hollywood classic.

Despite a refreshing show of independence from some members of the current school board, who have stood up to Canavan, it’s incumbent upon the parents and the taxpayers and the voters to stand up, too.

This time, it’s the school budget. At other times throughout the year, it will be the county’s budget, or some legislation before the Harford County Council, or some zoning case or any number of governmental matters that will have real impacts on people’s lives. In each case, our message will be the same: Show up and speak up.

Community voices are heard and they have an impact. Think not? Look at what happened in the past with the school budget and the swimming pools and the drama fees. Or look at how Harford County Council President Dick Slutzky has taken recent steps to limit access by the public and to limit how long they can speak.

There are three more chances to be heard on the budget for the next school year. Spend a little time, go to one of the hearings and let school officials know what you think.

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