PTA Council, teachers union troubled by board behavior

Leaders of county education organizations told members of the county school board this week they are concerned about the board's recent behavior.

At the board meeting Thursday, Feb. 23, the presidents of the Howard County Education Association and PTA Council of Howard County said their organizations had become troubled by what they perceive as an inability of the board to function effectively.

"We cannot, and will not, accept a board whose interpersonal disputes substitute for the official business of (the school system)," said Paul Lemle, HCEA president. "We expect you to handle disagreements in a businesslike, reasonable and respectful manner."

HCEA's representative council voted Feb. 14 to request board members to seek mediation or consider resigning. The request came after a board vote Feb. 9 on the new middle school program of studies disintegrated into airing of board members' grievances against one another, stemming from the disputed legality of allowing board member Brian Meshkin to vote by phone.

Chaun Hightower, president of the PTA Council, said the tone and tenor of board members' interactions must change if they want to achieve their mission.

"We do not view the current climate within the board as one that can foster deliberative change and community engagement," Hightower said. "We believe your interactions should set a positive example for our community and students."

Despite echoing many of HCEA's concerns, the PTA Council is not calling for conflict resolution or resignation.

"We didn't want to dictate their actions," Hightower said after the meeting. "We are supportive of them, but we are watching, and we are concerned."

The board's behavior also drew the attention of the Community Advisory Council, a committee that serves as a channel for the public to voice their concerns, advice and information to the board.

While the CAC did not take a position on the behavior exhibited during the Feb. 9 meeting, it is conducting a study regarding the use of technology in board meetings.

Chris Wertman, immediate past president of the council, said members would survey other school districts to find out how other systems use "non-traditional methods for holding meetings," and take a poll of CAC members. The CAC would then provide a report of its findings and recommendation to the board.

Each member of the board should take individual responsibility on the issue, Lemle said, because each member "is to blame for the behavior exhibited by the body.

"HCEA holds you in high regard as individuals, and we believe you hold yourselves in high regard, as you should," Lemle said. "We also believe, however, that you hold each other in contempt. This dichotomy is an inherent contradiction. The two states cannot coexist."

Board Chairwoman Sandra French said that she could not speak for other board members, but she would be willing to participate "in some kind of mediation." She said she also had considered hiring an attorney to sit with the board during meetings to address concerns of legality.

In regards to fallout over the board's vote to restructure the middle school program of studies, and the contentious debate leading up to the vote, French said she had personally responded to every teacher that had written to her.

"I sent them each a personal apology," she said. "I cannot apologize for the actions of others."

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