1:30 PM EDT, April 17, 2012
George Nellies writes in response to a letter to the editor I wrote regarding the Baltimore County school board proposal that failed in the General Assembly ("Baltimore County needs an elected school board," April 13) First, I would like to thank Mr. Nellies. I haven't gotten this much ink in the newspaper in probably 20 years.
Mr. Nellies first comments are that my language "parrots" County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. I have had no communication with the county executive over this issue. I am, however, proud that I am accused of coming to the same conclusion as the executive.
Mr. Nellies contends that my speculation on what might happen is "the sky is falling" rhetoric with no evidence. There have been many instances across this nation where small school districts have interjected religious doctrine into the schools over school prayer, birth control education or "creationism." Additionally, every county council has rejected the notion of an elected school board for the 35 years I have been following the board until now.
Yes, council over the years has been frustrated by actions of the board. But they recognized the potential dangers inherent in an elected school board. Despite that frustration, and despite the fact that the county council had little influence on who is appointed to the board, they all felt the solution of an elected board would be worse. Most of my colleagues think an elected board would be acceptable — if that board had the responsibility of raising the revenue and defending tax rates to voters.
Mr. Nellies argues that 96 percent of the school districts in this nation are governed by elected boards. Here are some facts that I am sure Mr. Nellies doesn't know: The overwhelming majority of school districts in this country are made up of one or two high schools, a few middle schools and an a handful of elementary schools. The school districts are very small and neighborhood-oriented. By comparison, Baltimore County is extremely unique. It is one of the largest "school districts " in the nation. So citing a "96 percent" statistic is meaningless to apply here.
There is another set of facts that warrant attention. The majority of those eligible to vote in this county have no direct interest in the public schools. About 65 percent of voting eligible people are registered to vote and of that number, only 40 percent actually vote. Of that number, half either have no children, their children go to private school, or their children no longer attend school. So Mr. Nellies contends that about 20 percent of the voting eligible people in this county should decide the best way to teach "Johnny or Mary" how to read. And he favors doing it by district, not county-wide, adding to the probability of getting people with a very narrow agenda.
I agree that there needs to be some improvement in the board's responsiveness. I offered two possible suggestions. He criticized one ( the parallel school board) for lack of specificity. Space does not allow that specificity. I would be happy to provide. The second suggestion, which Mr. Nellies chose not to comment on, was to elect two members to the board county-wide. This would add a voice on the board that wouldn't focus on politics. Both of these ideas would help responsiveness. What they wouldn't do is interject the vicissitudes of politics into how to teach children to read.
Mel Mintz, Pikesville
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