It is not often that we find ourselves agreeing with Baltimore County Board of Education member Kathleen Causey, but her observation Tuesday evening that the board was wasting its time by resubmitting Verletta White’s name to the state superintendent of schools in expectation that she will be approved as the county’s superintendent for the next four years — and not simply allowed to continue on an interim basis for another year — was spot on. The 8-4 decision by the Baltimore County school board feels just as symbolic and political as State Superintendent Karen Salmon’s rejection of Ms. White. Nothing has changed in the last week. Board members are simply digging in their heels; why shouldn’t they expect the state superintendent to do the same?
It doesn’t take a crystal ball to perceive what’s going to happen next. Ms. Salmon will stick to her guns — her case bolstered in no small part by the letter writing campaign instigated by Ms. Causey and two other oppositional board members who would have preferred someone else get the job. In two weeks, Ms. White will be reappointed for another year as interim, which Ms. Salmon has already said she would likely approve. The board will remain as conflicted (most likely along those same 8-4 lines) as ever. Various political benefactors like Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Gov. Larry Hogan will give predictable reactions decrying the dysfunction but with their own particular spin. And the hyperbole will only fly higher as the election approaches and county voters choose their first partially elected school board.
How important is all this back-and-forth to Baltimore County families with actual kids in public schools? There certainly are highly vocal parents and advocates both for and against Ms. White’s appointment. But what about the mainstream? Here’s our take: They aren’t particularly consumed with whether Ms. White, the systems’ former chief academic officer, gets a four-year contract or a one-year appointment as interim superintendent. They have bigger fish to fry.
On Monday night, Ms. White conducted the latest session in her “listening” tour of Baltimore County, inviting anyone (parents of current students or not) to show up at West Towson Elementary School for a no-holds barred conversation about what’s going on in the system. From 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., anyone could pick up the microphone and say pretty much anything right to the superintendent’s face. The result? Well, for starters, it was a lot more pleasant and polite than the typical Baltimore County Board of Education meeting. But here’s the really interesting thing — very little of it was about Ms. White’s appointment or even about auditing of school spending in wake of Dallas Dance’s tenure.
In what could best be described as a lightly attended meeting with fewer than two dozen spectators (with slightly more school system employees there than parents), Ms. White heard questions about classroom size, poverty and community schools, and universal pre-K before someone — as it happens a candidate for the House of Delegates — raised a question about audits and the school system’s investments in technology. Ms. White answered the question, seemingly to the candidate’s satisfaction (pointing out, among other things that it was now up to the school board to decide the scope of outside audits).
After that, there were more questions about schools serving poor communities, about teaching keyboard and handwriting skills, about whether elementary schools should be focused on computers or fundamental skills (Ms. White chose the latter), and about equity in determining how to relieve overcrowding in high schools. No voices were raised. No questions were refused. Nobody “insinuated malfeasance,” as certain school board members are apt to do when they speak to Ms. White. It was perfectly civil and perhaps even boring. The audience members found themselves in agreement with their interim superintendent on most issues raised.
Now, perhaps an angrier crowd could be found had the session been conducted at one of the county’s more aggrieved venues — at Lansdowne or Dulaney High, for example, where there’s a great deal of finger pointing over aging buildings and the county’s failure to replace them. A more pro-White audience could probably be found on the county’s west side, where Ms. White grew up and went to school. This was pretty much neutral turf, and the attendees were clearly more interested in their children’s education than the machinations of state and county school officials.
We’ve noted on this page before that the superintendent selection process was handled badly. But it’s also clear that Ms. White is a smart and skilled educator who made a mistake on her ethics form and has since corrected it. She is, as even Ms. Salmon acknowledges, perfectly capable of leading the system. Can we move on? If the West Towson session is any indicator, average folks in Baltimore County have. It’s time everyone else did, too. There are students to teach.
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