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A critical decision for Balto. Co. schools

At its Dec. 5 meeting, the Baltimore County Board of Education, in keeping with state law, will elect a new chair and vice chair. In light of a series of Baltimore Sun articles outlining conflicts of interest and ethics lapses and/or violations on the part of our former and current superintendents, it is imperative to get the vote right — the stakes are high.

Problems revealed by The Sun include undisclosed income, excessive out-of-state travel and troubling connections to the Education Research & Development Institute (ERDI) with its “pay-to-play” scheme to sell education technology companies access to superintendents. Our new board leaders must be held to a higher standard as they usher in a new culture of accountability and transparency.

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As the governing body of the school system, the board determines educational policies, adopts regulations for schools’ management, and makes critical decisions regarding school construction and repair. It also appoints and evaluates the superintendent.

A key role of the board is effective engagement with the community at large. Community members regularly speak out at meetings for safe schools, safe transportation to and from those schools, and equitable facilities. They also testify against the massive costs tied to the digital initiative implemented by our former superintendent. When hundreds of millions of dollars are spent to lease a laptop for every student — all 113,000 of them — what is lost, especially in a county where nearly half of the students live in poverty? When every line item of the budget is raided to fund this as-yet unproven initiative, what is left to address the most basic needs of students? For example, how can additional support staff be hired to prevent teachers from being assaulted?

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New board leadership must be willing to tackle these issues. They should work openly and collaboratively with the school system’s administration, teachers, students, parents, stakeholder groups, and Baltimore County citizens. We need board leaders who are passionate about improving our public schools and educational outcomes for all students, and who are focused on increased oversight of the school system’s business.

Julie Sugar and Laurie Taylor-Mitchell

The writers are co-founders of Advocates for Baltimore County Schools.

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