In addition to my priority and focus on the residents of the 6th legislative district in the legislature, I was honored this year to take on new responsibilities on behalf of all residents of Baltimore County as Chairman of the Baltimore County House Delegation.
This session, I was proud of the efforts and accomplishments of the Delegation—especially in the area of education. Indeed, perhaps the largest ongoing issue before the Baltimore County Delegation has been related to the Baltimore County School Board.
In years past, there have been a variety of proposals introduced and considered by the legislature to change the composition of the board. These have included changing the currently all-appointed board to an all-elected body and making the board a “hybrid” of both appointed and elected members.
The issue took on particular prominence this year in the wake of several questionable decisions on the part of the system and its leadership.
First, there were reports about an ongoing no-bid contract that has paid a Georgia company more than $4 million over the last decade. In those years, not one competitive bid process was put in place for the student data tracking service.
This was followed by proposed changes to the school system’s “Rule 1300,” which deals with public use of and access to school facilities. As initially proposed (and since changed as a result of our advocacy), the continuation of many public functions that utilize school grounds (including Parent-Teacher Association events and community activities such as the Heritage Fair) would have been in jeopardy.
The final straw was the school systems’ budget, which eliminates nearly 200 classroom teaching positions even as administrative costs continue to grow. Needless to say, these issues demanded action be taken.
Consequently, I worked closely with the Chair of the Senate Delegation, Senator Kathy Klausmier, to introduce and pass legislation that creates a task force to examine the board's selection process. This will allow the public and educational stakeholders a full opportunity to weigh in on what changes, if any, should be made. In addition to examining the board member selection process, the task force is charged with identifying recommendations that will improve the board's professionalism and transparency.
In my view, we must not only be sure to select the right people to oversee the school system, but we should also have institutional supports and safeguards to ensure that the question “what is in the best interest of the children?” is at the heart of the decision-making process.
In the interim, and as the task force prepares to begin its work, we also passed the Baltimore County School Board Accountability Act. This legislation requires the Baltimore County Board of Education to develop and operate a free, public and searchable website by January 1, 2013, to include data on contracted board payments in the amount of $25,000 or more.
You deserve to know that there are good people and a good process driving decisions about your public school system. Our work this session strived to ensure that mission is being accomplished.