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Harford County school board members considering changes to meeting schedule, involvement

Members of the Harford County Board of Education are considering changes to its meeting schedule, but the school board president Jansen Robinson said they won’t take “reduce opportunities for the public to engage with board members."

Patrick Spicer, the school board’s attorney, provided members with options for the Public Meetings or Hearings of the Board of Education policy, which included changing how often the school board meets, at its most recent meeting Sept. 23. By state statute, a local board only must meet once every July, Spicer told the board.

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“Obviously, that’s a little outdated and not consistent with the needs of boards of education currently,” Spicer said. “But that’s the statute, the minimum that’s required. Everything above one meeting is more than you need to have statutorily or by law.”

Because the content of the policy is up to the school board members, it was not presented to the school system’s policy review committee, Spicer said.

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“It’s a policy so closely connected to the board’s direct operations, we thought why not just present it to the board for open discussions rather than go through the usual processes,” he said.

Under the existing board policy in effect since 2005, the board is required to meet on the second and fourth Mondays of each month, at 7 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., respectively. The board could change the policy to only one meeting a month, but add a second if it is necessary, Spicer said.

Most school boards in Central Maryland counties meet twice a month, including neighboring Cecil and Baltimore counties, though a few will reduce that to once a month during summer months. Carroll County’s Board of Education meets only once per month, except when it has scheduled work sessions on the operating budget.

How often the school board meets is just one area the members are exploring, Robinson said.

“I’ve always wanted to take board meetings around the county,” he said. “We could have them at the central office sometimes, but there are people in parts of the county who don’t get an opportunity, for whatever reason, to get to Bel Air to get to a board meeting.”

Robinson, who became board president in July when a virtually brand new board was seated — only he and Vice President Rachel Gauthier were on the previous board — also said he wants the board members to “really get intimately or deeply involved” in the operation of the school system.

“By the time you figure out what’s going on, you’re halfway through the term,” he said.

Robinson suggested, “with moderate success,” he said, establishing committees centered around the board’s vision for the school system.

Not all board members agree with that, he acknowledged.

“Some board members feel we are an executive board and we shouldn’t be getting involved in the committee stuff,” Robinson said. “Some board members really like that idea.”

One of the things the board is considering, Robinson said, is a board meeting once a month and a second meeting dedicated either to a discussion or committee meetings that discuss various topics.

“What we wanted to do was have these meetings be more informative,” he said. “To meet just to meet, that just didn’t seem to accomplish anything.”

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When the board meets, the administration presents a topic and the board votes on it — “there’s no opportunity for dialogue or discussion or drill-down on various topics.”

No decisions have been made, though Robinson said he’d like any changes to be in place by the beginning of 2020.

“At the very least, the goal is to do no harm,” he said. “If we can’t work out some of these challenges, then at the very least we won’t take away the opportunity for the community to have access to board members.”

Spicer said the board can provide input to him or the policy review committee and either of them can draft a revised policy for the board to consider.

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