Editorial: Strong, independent chair needed for school facilities committee

Carroll County Board of Education members made a good call earlier this week when they decided to move forward with a blended committee of community members, school system staff and an independent chairperson that will be tasked with considering information and making recommendations for future redistricting and, potentially, additional school closures and grade configurations.

Unlike in 2014, when recommendations were developed in a committee made up exclusively of Carroll County Public Schools’ staff and just a few short months passed in the time between the initial recommendations and the school board’s vote to close three building, this Board of Education is taking its time and having lots of open debate to ensure it gets things right and rebuilds the public’s trust.


So far, the feedback seems to be positive. More than 3,600 respondents completed the redistricting and facility utilization survey sent out in the fall, and those respondents, as well as focus group participants and those who attended a public forum last month, have expressed gratitude for the opportunity to provide input on these issues.

The next challenge, now that the board has decided on the make-up of the committee, is choosing those select individuals. The BOE wishes the committee to be made up of five parents, two bargaining unit reps, three CCPS staff members, one person from Carroll County government, two members of the business community and one independent facilitator.

Having this mix, which also excludes any current politicians from the school board or county commissioners, is a best of all worlds approach to the choices on the survey. The community’s faith has eroded in CCPS staff, rightly or wrongly, after previous decisions to close three schools and that couldn’t have been the choice this time around. But a group made up strictly of community members would have its own biases; consider that while 44 percent of survey respondents said they would support closing one or more schools to address declining enrollments and fiscal realities, that number dropped to 38 percent when asked if they would consider closing a school in their own community.

We had previously championed using an independent consultant to remove bias, real or perceived, from what will likely be a painful and emotional process that will have significant impact on students. However, we recognize that this approach of mixing community and school system stakeholders with an independent facilitator is probably a better choice, so long as the facilitator is given a significant level of authority.

Rather than a mediator or moderator whose role is simply to move along conversation and keep people on task, we envision empowering this person to act as the chair of the committee, someone whose voice carries a bit more weight than the other members, and ultimately makes the decisions with their feedback. This allows CCPS staff to contribute their expert knowledge of the budget and facilities with community weighing in on potential effects of decisions being made, while the recommendations ultimately come from someone with no horse in the race.

With that in mind, it is imperative CCPS find the right person for the job.

The ideal candidate would not have ties to Carroll County, but would have a strong understanding of public education and the ability to crunch the available data. Finding that person probably means spending some money. That notion will make some in the community bristle, especially considering funding gaps in public education that already exist.

Perhaps we’re wrong and that perfect person is out there willing to make the time commitment to do the work for free or for a small stipend. If they are, we hope they see this and reach out the CCPS. If not, the Board of Education needs to understand why hiring an independent chairperson is the best course of action to not only get the best results but to continue repairing the public’s confidence in the school system.