Anne Arundel Board of Education vows to address concerns of local advisory committee

The Anne Arundel County Board of Education will review policy regarding its citizen advisory committee amid the resignation of the countywide group's president and claims by the organization that the board tries to assert more control than necessary.

On Oct. 28, Citizen Advisory Committee chairman Tom Frank announced his resignation at a meeting and in a letter on the group's website, saying that when he assumed the role, "I was under the impression that the role of the CAC was to meet with a representative of each school, other interested parents and citizens, and to bring their educational concerns to the School Board and the Superintendent.

"I have been told that I essentially have this backwards and the CAC is supposed to only bring items to the parents that the School Board determines are important."

Board of Education members met Nov. 18 with advisory committee officials, then issued a statement announcing that it was concerned about Frank's resignation as well as the pending resignation of vice chairman (and now acting chairman) Jim Snider, who said he will step down in January.

The state mandates citizen advisory committees, which are organized groups of residents — including parents, teachers and students — that advise the board on education matters, including transportation, redistricting, budget and curriculum.

Frank said in an interview that the CAC's concerns stem from receiving scant response from the board on issues such as school start times and budget matters. He said his frustrations over a six-month period led to his resignation.

At times, he said, "There was no response to the citizens. I must say that a possible response could have been, 'We heard what you asked for, and we're not able or willing or capable,' but to have no response is to ignore the citizens of Anne Arundel County, and that's not acceptable."

The board said in its statement that it was concerned about the direction of the CAC. It said that it has asked schools Superintendent Kevin Maxwell to examine existing policy and administrative regulation regarding the advisory committee in the coming months "and determine if there are modifications that can be made to strengthen the ways in which parents and other community partners can provide information to the board."

Board member Victor Bernson said that in addressing the CAC's concerns, he wants to ensure that parents are heard.

"I don't care what the structure of the organization looks like. All I care about is whether the board is facilitating honest and open and regular communication with parents," Bernson said.

"One of the concerns that has been expressed here is that the board is trying too hard to control the topic of discussion, and I agree with that concern. I don't want to control the topics of discussion. I want to hear input from the citizens."

The Anne Arundel schools website says that unlike a parent-teacher organization, CACs are not independent of the board, but instead an arm of it. Citizen advisory committees cannot lobby or raise funds.

But Anne Arundel's CAC members say that the wording of what the group can and cannot do — such as lobbying — is vague.

"The perception you have when you're involved at the top is that everything is sweet and hunky-dory as long as you go along with the board's agenda," said Snider. "If you raise an issue that they don't want to raise, then this 'arm of the board' comes up."

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