Delegate Tony McConkey's Official Blog

Maryland Education Issues In An Election Year

maryland-educaton-issues It is an election year, and politicians are anxious to share their ideas on “Education.” Few issues garner more excitement and emotion. No matter what else is happening in the world – war, recession, or crime, Maryland education issues are stressed the most.

However, the truth is that most of your Anne Arundel politicians have almost NO say in education. They will seek to please by sharing their views, but politicians have little influence in affecting education policy in Anne Arundel County.

State and county government are expected to just write checks, checks that by state law must always be bigger than last year’s, without asking too many questions about how it is going to be spent.

The current arrangement is not by accident, but designed by an entrenched bureaucracy over many years. Under the guise of “separating education from politics”, taxpayers and their representatives have lost control over education policy in Anne Arundel County, and lost control over their tax dollars that go to pay for it.

Control was further diluted this month by a new state law signed by the Governor “The Fairness in Negotiations Act.” The Act (HB 243) sets up a new “independent state board” to make the final decisions (binding arbitration) in Anne Arundel County disputes on employee contracts, work rules, and labor disputes.

The law was passed despite the opposition from the Maryland Association of Counties, the Maryland State Board of Education, the school superintendents association, and local school boards, who argued that the Act is unnecessary and costly. At a time of unprecedented budget shortfalls, this new law will cost the school system millions of dollars in raises, arbitration fees and court costs and remove still more decision making from Anne Arundel County.

It is time for the taxpayers of Anne Arundel County to take back control of our school system. The irony of school spending versus performance was in the headlines of the May 12, 2010 issue of the Maryland Gazette. On the front page was the article “Schools Need More Funding.” that reported the dire warnings that the school system can’t be sustained with current funding. A warning we hear repeatedly, despite the fact that the State is spending $3.5 billion more PER YEAR on education than it did just 8 years ago, despite the fact that 60% of the county budget goes to education, and despite the fact that education is the only area that received both state and county budget increases this year.

Under the current system no amount of money is ever enough and the need for ever more funding is always the scapegoat for failures by the system. Proof of that truth was provided on page A2 of the same paper in a second article “Chesapeake Science Point (CSP) wins charter school of year.” CSP is a public school open to all Anne Arundel County students and its teachers are public school teachers. The one difference is that it operates independently, outside of the school bureaucracy. For that slight to the status quo, the School Board feels justified in only allowing CSP 70% of the funding per pupil. Still with only 70% of what every other school in the county receives, CSP has been able to achieve the highest test scores not only in the county, but in the state. CSP is a true Anne Arundel success story.

The first step in obtaining taxpayer control of the school system is to overturn a 2007 law that allowed a small group of Governor appointees and special interests to appoint the School Board. That closure of the process precludes anybody from the outside the system from ever being placed on the School Board again. The 2007 selection process has left the Board isolated and unresponsive.

To open the process up, I introduced HB 1083 “Contested Elections” that would have allowed candidates to challenge the appointed School Board members in an open election, similar to the system we now have for circuit court judges, but it was defeated. I don’t believe we can ever achieve real reform until we have an elected board like 18 of the counties in the State of Maryland.

Even more basic transparency reforms HB 510 and HB 17 were opposed by the Board and defeated. HB 510 would have expressly required that the School Board follow the long established “Open Meetings Law”. The law mandates that governmental decisions with few exceptions must be made in public meetings, a law that the Board has violated in the past.
The second bill HB 17 “Incidents of Bullying, Harassment & Intimidation” would have simply allowed greater communication between school administrators and police in the case of serious incidents. It was drafted to try and address some of the problems and excuses surrounding the death of Christopher Jones in Crofton.

They even opposed a fourth bill, HB 178 “Office Discipline Referrals – Policy” which requires the School Board to adopt for the FIRST TIME a formal procedure for recording and tracking disciplinary complaints against students. The Board defeated it in 2009, but it squeaked by on the final day of the legislative session this year.

I hope you will help make school reform an issue this election year. As always please contact me if I can provide you with any additional information on this or any other topic at 410-841-3406 or McConkey@Writeme.com.

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