Three new members joining the county school board next week set a high bar during their campaigns, promising to take steps for improving communications and openness in a school system that been under fire for months over a perceived lack of transparency.
The three — Kirsten Coombs, Mavis Ellis and Christina Delmont-Small — will be sworn in days after an ombudsman in the state attorney general's office released a preliminary report revealing that the schools, in some cases, violated Maryland's laws on the access to public information over more than three years.
The report was ordered by state legislators earlier this year after a chorus of citizen complaints that the system's bureaucrats had denied access to records and other information that should have been readily available.
In several cases when some school records were deemed to be open, the report said the school system mandated sometimes onerous fees and denied requests to waive the cost, which could effectively quash the public's right to information.
The ombudsman's report zeroed in on two cases that had captured much public attention: Details over persistent mold problems in several schools and a consultant's report on special education. In both instances, the school system's response for information was obliquely insufficient.
School leaders who have been proclaiming they've been open, and that no problem exists, have been shown to be wrong, or, at best, clueless about how some requests were handled.
A school spokesman said "gaps" in the process have been repaired "and we're following the law." Time will tell.
By bringing a fresh approach, and a commitment to access and openness, the three new members have an opportunity to restore confidence in the system and divert the negative energy that has swirled far too long.