Author states that the time for change is NOW
This letter was received by a concerned parent and is published as written.
As an investigative journalist, I will continue to look into this matter fervently.
The opinions expressed are those of the writer. I feel it is important to publish the entire letter as written.
To the Editors of the Baltimore Sun and Dundalk Patch via Buzz Beeler:
This letter is in response to Buzz Beeler’s Oct. 3 Dundalk Patch article entitled “Complaints against Dance Meet Wall of Stone”. It is also, in part, a response to the Baltimore Sun’s August 31 editorial, “Facing the Heat in Baltimore County”.
Although coming from completely different angles, both articles are correct in that they each underscore the fact that Baltimore County’s Board of Education is, indeed, dysfunctional.
In fact, no event highlights the truth of that sentiment more than the display of dysfunction at the January 12, 2016 Input Hearing, in which the community was able to provide input into three topics: the superintendent’s contract renewal, among them. After what occurred that night, a number of advocates all but gave up even trying any longer. The ambush at the meeting — which was clearly an orchestrated STAT promotional event, having nothing at all to do with the topics at hand – was enough to finally see that BCPS’s issues are truly too far gone to ever be corrected under the current leadership. Sometimes one just needs to admit defeat and move on. [For context on STAT, this is a great resource: https://statusbcps.wordpress.com/]
During that evening, a board member smugly walked down to the microphone and spoke as a constituent, looking over her left shoulder, to direct attention to those she accused of racist intentions. That was the moment that I realized that no conversation was possible and that all reason, logic, sound governance and all the things that one would hope for in a healthy board of education for this county, were dispelled. There comes a point when things become so unreasonable, that it is not possible to fix the issues. When respect is lost, all is lost.
We suffer from the malaise of perceptual differences and all sides are adamant that the others have ulterior motives; and, thus, there is gridlock, red tape and dysfunction. Luckily, though, the bright side is that there are rules, laws and guidelines that are intended to make things simple and crystal clear.
For instance, on BCPS’ website, it clearly states the following about board responsibilities:
The Board of Education of Baltimore County (Board) is authorized by Maryland law to “determine, with advice of the county Superintendent, the educational policies of the county school system”. Its three major areas of responsibility are: School Policy, School Budget, and School Property.
Nowhere does it state that the board should be “pulled for a vote” by anyone at the County Executive’s office. Nor does it recommend that obtaining the advice by any other government agency would be beneficial to the school system. In fact, I would venture to say that each member was appointed to represent his or her respective areas, with “at large” still serving Baltimore County constituents as a whole. The partial emails revealed in the Dundalk Patch, regarding BCPS Board members and the County Executive’s office, seem to indicate — or at least give the appearance of — meddling with board democracy. In other words, if the County Executive’s Office is controlling the votes at the board level, perhaps it is reasonable to conclude that there is then an absence of true democracy at the board level. If this is so, then therein lies another symptom of dysfunction on BCPS’ Board of Education.
Additionally, there are Codes of Conduct for government agencies that also make things very clear. Here, in Baltimore County’s Code of Ordinances, Article 7 of Public Ethics and Open Government, “§ 7-1-102. – STATEMENT OF PURPOSE AND POLICY, it states:
a) Findings and declaration. The County Council, in recognition that representative government is dependent in part on the people maintaining the highest trust in their public officials, finds and declares that the people have a right to be assured that the impartiality and independent judgment of public officials will be maintained.
b) Public confidence and trust. It is evident that public confidence and trust is eroded when the conduct of county business is subject to improper influence or when there is the appearance of improper influence.
c) Statement of purpose. For the purpose of guarding against improper influence, the County Council enacts this title to:
(1) Require public officials to disclose their financial affairs; and
(2) Set minimum standards for the conduct of county business by public officials.
d) Construction. It is the intention of the County Council that this title, except for its provisions regarding criminal sanctions, be liberally construed to accomplish the purpose of guarding against improper influence.”
I think that it is reasonable to deduce that, in light of the emails which seem to indicate that some on the board could easily be cajoled into voting certain ways, that this is enough to conclude that “public trust has been eroded” and that there is at least the “appearance of improper influence”.
Similarly, with the silence on the Superintendent’s ethics complaint — if those whom are responsible for making sure that the law works as intended are, themselves, silent on such matters, what hope is there that the laws will be followed? Frankly, what faith can there be that the entire process works at all?
So, yes, dysfunction is abound on the Board of Ed.
The most concerning aspect of all of this, however, is the public’s surrender that all of this is “just business as usual”. However, it may not be until the public has had enough, that the county or Baltimore County’s Board of Education can improve.
It will have to be the public that changes it. We can change this system with how we vote in 2018 (since we will then be voting for members for the hybrid elected school board), we can change it by seeking leadership positions with clear intentions to serve the public, we can change it by demanding accountability and we can also change it by reaching higher and asking for the Office of the Maryland State Attorney to look into Baltimore County’s issues.
As a concerned Baltimore County citizen, I respectfully implore Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, to conduct an investigation into Baltimore County Public Schools, its Ethics Panel, its Board of Education, as well as the County Executive’s Office of Baltimore County.
If all is found to be well on all fronts, then the public’s trust may be restored. Additionally, having a proper process demonstrated, by conducting an investigation when there is at least an appearance of impropriety, would do wonders for Baltimore County and its citizens.