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Baltimore County's school board is failing

The Baltimore County teachers union rallies about budget issues before the school board meeting. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)

I appreciated The Sun’s recent editorial regarding the selection process for Baltimore County Public Schools’ new superintendent (“Balt. Co. superintendent: Promising choice, horrible process,” May 22). Years ago, I worked for the U.S. Department of Education and came to have a strong appreciation for transparency, process and strategy in public education. I have been dismayed to see little of this in recent weeks by the Baltimore County Board of Education.

First of all, you rightly pointed out that the process for selecting a new superintendent was quite secretive. In fact, the announcement on Facebook came between posts about "Kenwood High's Carpentry classes have completed their Hollywood style sign, and it looks awesome" and a reminder that schools would, indeed, be closed on Memorial Day. If that isn't an anticlimactic/downplayed social media announcement, I don't know what is.

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Just as troubling — at least for those of us who have kids in the system and have spent money on child care, camps or vacation — the school recently put out a fairly major announcement via a survey literally posted on Facebook in the shadow of the Darryl Williams' announcement which has received little or no press coverage from what I can see. The survey asks, almost casually, if parents would prefer that the 2019-20 school year start a week earlier or spring break be cut down to a 3-day break and Easter Monday. According to the text of the survey, it appears that the calendar was published before final funding for an extended school day was approved and now the school board is scrambling to develop an alternate. However, as the over 900 comments on Facebook indicate, most parents feel this is extremely short notice, particularly since people have either paid for camp or vacation during late August or have begun to plan for spring break next year.

And there's no indication as to how this calendar decision may, or may not, impact future years. For example, perhaps we keep the post-Labor Day start this year, but would it be feasible to start a week earlier next year through better planning and budgeting? Besides "start a week early" or "lose a full spring break week," there is no other option presented — I'm not on the board or intimately familiar with the options, but other districts have somehow managed to solve the calendar within a number of restrictive parameters, so surely there must be some other options when it comes to scheduling professional development days, holidays, etc.

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In addition, from what I can tell, the survey is open to any member of the public — indeed anyone, anywhere in the world — not just impacted families. And it can be taken more than once. I was tempted to have my 19 cousins in Minnesota take it. I'm sure a wise restaurant owner in Ocean City could think to do the same to ensure that school does not start a week earlier and result in a week of lost business. And furthermore, there is not a lot of information provided about how exactly this survey will be taken into account when the board votes on June 11.

I was intrigued to watch the school board election last fall when, in my district, the chair who had been appointed by the governor was elected into her role again. I hope that as time passes, now that the board allows for elected membership, we will begin to see broader representation of strategic thinking, transparency and wise policymaking on the board. The board's decisions impact not only teachers, but families and parents and changes to the calendar on two months' notice have a real impact especially on working families who have to plan far ahead for care and vacations.

I know I plan to throw my hat into the ring next time around.

Rachel Gibson, Lutherville

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