A task force deciding how to pay for billions in recommendations to boost Maryland’s public schools voted Thursday to meet behind closed doors as it continues its work ― sparking objection from some members of the work group, who argued that the body was being too secretive.
The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Funding Formula Workgroup voted 8-4 to work in closed session in the afternoon as it determined how much counties and the state will have to pay for proposals such as implementing full-day prekindergarten and increasing teacher pay.
Former University System of Maryland Chancellor William “Brit” Kirwan, who is chairman of the commission, said the closed session was necessary so the work group could consider many options and not confuse the public over proposals that will never be adopted.
He cited an opinion from Democratic state Attorney General Brian Frosh’s office that the closed session is legal because the work group is not technically a public body.
“We are in a very early stage,” Kirwan said. “We will be putting models out there to see how the formulas would work. I personally think it would be a disservice to the public to see numbers that will have no real meaning. It would be very confusing. ... People will get all excited or upset over information that will never come to be.”
Kirwan pledged not make any decisions in closed session. He said the work group would vote on its recommendations in public.
The Kirwan commission is continuing its work of deciding how precisely to fund its full recommendations — which would cost about $3.8 billion annually within 10 years. The work group is tasked with creating formulas to determine how much individual counties will pay and how much the state will pay. It will not recommend specific ways to raise revenue.
Those voting to move into closed session were: Kirwan; assistant superintendent for Anne Arundel County Public Schools Monique Davis; state Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat; former Maryland Budget Secretary Eloise Foster; Matt Gallagher, president of the Goldseker Foundation; Sean Johnson, assistant director of the Maryland State Education Association; Montgomery County Budget Director Richard Madaleno; and state Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat.
Those opposed to the closed session were: current state Budget Secretary David Brinkley; Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, a Republican; Baltimore County Board of Education member Cheryl Pasteur; and Prince George’s County Board of Education Chairman Alvin Thornton, who led the last state commission to increase school funding.
“I just thought the issues we had to discuss could be appropriately discussed in front of the people of Maryland,” Thornton said in an interview after the vote. “This is going to be the potential way to pay for Kirwan. These are going to be difficult deliberations. But all those things could be discussed in front of the public.”
Brinkley said he believes the state’s open meetings regulations should be interpreted strictly and the task force’s work should be done in public.
Speaking generally of the Kirwan commission’s work, Brinkley argued lawmakers need to be upfront with the public, and tell them tax increases will likely be needed to fund the increases to schools.
“They should look at the camera and tell them which taxes they’re going to raise,” Brinkley said.