School board shifts policy

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore County school board members voted unanimously last night to turn one of their twice-monthly meetings into a work session.

Another proposed policy change - which would limit the number of groups given time to address members during meetings - was pulled from yesterday's agenda.

Board members Earnest E. Hines and newly appointed James E. Coleman were not present for the vote.

Several people, who expressed concern about the tabled policy change, lauded the board for pulling the item.

"I applaud your effort to try to make the meetings more efficient and to increase your knowledge by having the work sessions," said Jan Thomas, who chairs the central-area advisory council and was one of several people to address the issue. "We need to make sure that we don't do it at the public expense."

Board President JoAnn C. Murphy has said the proposed revisions were intended to give members more time to discuss issues in-depth. They also attempt to clarify what's appropriate for public comment - asking people who speak to the board to specify an "agenda item or educational topic" they want to discuss - and streamline meetings.

The changes involve designating one meeting for business and the other as a work session for "the review and evaluation of the school program and/or the development and discussion of board policy," without public participation.

The tabled item dealt with narrowing stakeholder groups to employee unions, the county PTA and student councils and board-created advisory groups. That would exclude non-board-appointed advisory committees, as well as the grass-roots Baltimore County Education Coalition.

While several said they approve of the notion of work sessions, some contended that the board should not limit participation because having a variety of groups speak provides the board with a fair representation of public opinion.

Carmela Veit, who spoke for the coalition, said the group planned to meet later this month with some board members.

"I think that's a very positive gesture on the part of the Board of Education, to be inclusive," Veit said. "We're all stakeholders, and it's public education."

The majority of the state's school boards have business and work-session meetings, according to the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.

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