The Baltimore County Board of Education has elected Makeda Scott to lead as its chair and Julie Henn to continue serving as vice chair following several high-profile calls for new leadership this week.
Scott, who was elected to the board in 2018, was nominated Tuesday to preside over meetings and act as the board’s spokeswoman for the next year by student board member Joshua Muhumuza, a senior at Dundalk High School. Henn was also nominated for the chair position by sitting chairwoman Kathleen Causey, but was not considered further after Scott received the majority seven votes needed to win.
Causey then nominated Henn to retain her position as vice chair to the board, challenging Cheryl Pasteur who was nominated by John Offerman. Board members voted twice but were unable to reach a consensus — with both candidates nabbing six votes each — meaning incumbent candidate Henn would hold the position for another year.
Scott, Henn and Pasteur did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday evening.
This is the second consecutive year Baltimore County school board members have found themselves in a deadlock while deciding a leadership slot on the 12-person panel. Maryland school boards are required to elect a chair and vice chair at their first meeting in December each year, which fell on Tuesday.
Because no candidate for chair could secure the seven votes needed to declare victory, Causey retained the position with just five votes. Pasteur received the remaining six votes, with one seat on the panel vacant at the time. Henn was elected to serve as vice chair of the board.
While the positions are largely symbolic, the board’s inability to decisively choose its own leadership hints at contention among the people who are charged with making decisions that affect about 115,000 public school children.
Muhumuza said tensions among board members have flared behind closed doors, which “the public doesn’t see,” he said.
“It’s tangibly clear for anyone who sees the board meetings, the board is divided,” he said. “We do good work, but there’s certain bitterness at times. With a new structure, we can really focus on important things.”
Muhumuza and his four most recent predecessors Omer Reshid, Noureen Badwi, Haleemat Adekoya and Josie Shaffer delivered a letter to the board this week calling for a leadership change. The current and former student representatives said they were motivated by the desire to ensure the board functions well internally and serves in the best interest of students and the public.
“We believe that recently it has been harder for stakeholders and the public to trust BCPS and that a change to new and visionary leadership of both the President and Vice President on the Board of Education would allow an effective and fresh start at rebuilding trust with the public, having effective leaders that can listen keenly to other Board Members and the public, and ultimately make every decision with the best interest of students at the forefront,” the letter states.
Board member Moalie Jose also tweeted out the letter Tuesday with a comment “Listen to the students.” Efforts to reach Jose Tuesday were unsuccessful.
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And state delegates representing Maryland’s District 11 in Baltimore County sent a similar letter Tuesday. In it, Dels. Lisa Belcastro, Jon Cardin and Dana Stein, and State Sen. Shelly Hettleman advocated for a “change in leadership.” The state representatives named Scott and Pasteur as having “the required vision and experience” to lead.
Meanwhile, members of a group called Re-open Baltimore County Public Schools led a grassroots email-writing campaign in recent weeks to see Henn become chair of the board.
Mary Taylor, a representative of the group, said community members were extremely thankful that Henn will continue in her role as vice chair.
“She has demonstrated dedication and leadership on the board,” Taylor said. “We need more of that representation and transparency from the board. We appreciate her willingness to have open communication.”
In Baltimore County, the board of education chairperson typically presides over meetings, develops agendas with the superintendent, assigns members of the board to various committees and ensures the superintendent is evaluated annually.