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Acting in Howard

THE BALTIMORE SUN

PUBLIC BODIES NEED to provide ways for citizens to offer suggestions -- and criticisms. And they must respond quickly. If they don't, they undermine their authority

One hopes this thinking informs a decision by the Howard County School Board to make significant changes in what it has called Listening Post, the mechanisms by which parents and others can speak about public education at board meetings.

Some irony attends these proposed changes.

Critics of the board have focused on the formal process under which citizens in this education-sensitive county may speak.

Some have felt they spoke into a void. Response came late or not at all. Others thought the Listening Post was less a sounding board than a baffle, a way to absorb and obscure concerns. Was Listening Post just a merely a guise?

The current process may contribute to these feelings. Because board members do not address the speakers' concerns immediately after they're presented, some conclude the board isn't listening.

That feeling may deepen, of course, when weeks go by before anyone responds.

Under its chairman, Sandra H. French, the board now undertakes change with a survey of how other boards deal with public concerns. A public discussion was to have been held last evening during the board meeting.

Parents and others with concerns about public education, open public-policy making and the performance of school authorities can feel a sense of accomplishment.

They must also accept the fact that interminable harangues and personal attacks are likely to be counterproductive.

The board bears most of the responsibility, though. It must truly listen, hear and act. When that happens, the public will have more confidence and the critics' volume will go down.

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