Take a wild guess – throw a dart with a blindfold on – and you might divine that I’m not a big fan of establishment politics. Nor am I big on PR stunts. The problem with PR stunts is they are inherently deceptive. The stuntmen and stunt women want us to believe what we’re seeing is real. The problem with establishment politics is that society’s pressing need – “the children,” for instance – always ends up playing second fiddle to flaccid businessmen and guileful dealmakers.
PR stunts and establishment politics go hand in hand. One such stunt, designed to protect the status quo against what has become a groundswell of support for an elected school board in Harford County, played out in Annapolis Wednesday.
Del. Mary-Dulany James (D-District 34) considers herself a stalwart of the community’s educational institutions. She has every right to. Not just because her father helped found Harford Community College, but because she’s been a voice of reason during heated education debates past – and because she’s been a defender of the liberal bastion of education in the conservative bastion of Harford’s suburban farm country.
But in her fervor to keep Harford’s school board out of electoral politics, James is pulling a bit of a PR stunt.
James, along with Del. B. Dan “Arm Every Man, Woman, and Child” Riley (D-District 34), is the author of House Bill 806 (http://mlis.state.md.us/2008RS/bills/hb/hb0806f.pdf), which would preserve the status quo for how school board members are appointed. It would resuscitate and enshrine the Permanent Nominating Caucus, a depressing and spectacularly failed committee of citizens with supposed input into school board appointments. I covered the PNC in its sad twilight. Knowing then-Gov. Ehrlich and man-wonder County Exec Harkins were going to flatly ignore its reasoned recommendations, the PNC had become little more than a few housewives at a PTA meeting no one bothered to show up for – except for a local reporter, who’d been sent on yet another lame mission.
James’ refurbished PNC would include representatives from the Harford Business Roundtable for Education, a Chamber of Commerce-like business group (http://www.hcps.org/Departments/PublicInformation/HCPS_Newspaper/Archive/2003-04/June2003-04.pdf) that supports education in the county. HBRT submitted written testimony in Annapolis opposing an elected school board last year.
On Wednesday, HBRT testified against Sen. Barry Glassman’s bill to create a fully elected school board. They’ll likely testify in support of James’ bill at a hearing Feb. 27. In a January 25 letter to James, HBRT president Richard Bock, owner of Huntington Learning Center in Bel Air, noted, “Having been close observers of the Board for many years, we believe the appointment system has given us a stronger Board than we have ever had.”
Bock continued: “In the past year or so, there have been many voices calling for change. As we understand it the call for change arises from the concern, real or perceived, that the Board members must be ‘more accountable’ and should not be political appointees of the Governor. We strongly agree with the second point but question what ‘accountability’ means. Too often we fear it means, ‘You did not do what I want’.”
What neither Bock nor James have stated clearly, however, is the fact that the board has repeatedly done what HBRT members J. Vinton Schafer & Sons, Frederick Ward Associates, and Edmeades & Stromdahl wanted. All have large, board-approved contracts with Harford County Public Schools (http://www.hcps.org/departments/docs/operations/planningandconstruction/ConstructionStatusApril07.pdf). Glassman made mention during his hearing Wednesday of business ties between a group listed in the James bill (ostensibly HBRT) and the school system, according to a Dagger citizen report. HBRT president Bock retorted that “very few” HBRT members do business with the school system.
James’ bill would require the governor to honor one of the reformed PNC’s picks, which would mean the group couldn’t be completely ignored – a clear improvement over the old setup. Still, the governor would have the power to reject several nominees before selecting one. Thus, if the Gov has a mind to promote loyal central committee members and party stalwarts, like Ehrlich and Harkins did, the same-old-same-old could still prevail. Plus, look at the makeup of the school board, past and present. The mix of blowhards and brave minds, of down to earth PTA types and the politically ambitious has been analogous to, say, the Harford County delegation to Annapolis.
In its 2007 written testimony opposing an elected school board, HBRT sang: “Accountability is something we should expect from all public officials. But accountability should not be measured by their inability to make every small interest group happy.” No, every small interest group doesn’t need to be happy. So long as the big ones are.
Maybe it is just a coincidence but Edmeades & Stromdahl was the 4th highest campaign contributor to Mary Dulaney James in 2006. Considering the fact that the Harford Business Roundtable has had so much influence on Board member selection, is it any wonder they don’t want to give up control to the voters? If Mary Dulaney James thinks the school system is so wonderful the way it is now, why does she send all of her kids to private school?
Yeah, but the problem with elected school boards are you get the moronic hordes forcing their agendas through. Then MD taxpayers get waste money defending things like the teaching of Creationism because religious leaders want to keep their followers deaf, dumb, and blind, not to mention preggers and barefoot.
UAB, I believe you just call me, and all of the other voters in Harford County, a moronic horde. I don’t feel that I need the “better” (PNC) members to tell me what is best for me. I am perfectly capable of making these decisions for myself. And my special interest is my children, the ones who actually go to school in Harford County. I think that makes me uniquely qualified!
Rose Karnes says
In response to Mr. Brock’s comment about accounatability: “Too often we fear it means, ‘You did not do what I want’.’ ” I
sn’t that what democracy is all about? We vote for people who will do what we believe is right and fair and we have the right to vote them out if we disagree with their decisions?
Harford County: Home of the Moronic Horde
Sounds like a slogan to me! 🙂
Or perhaps Iron Moronic Horde….
Sandy & Rose, I think most people would agree with you. Even Mark Wolkow, who is on the Board of Ed and an outspoken critic of elections said that a referendum on an elected school board in Harford County would pass easily. This was in response to a question from Sen. Andy Harris at a hearing on Wednesday.
UAB– I think if you look at all the places where Creationism and/or Intelligent Design has reared its ugly head in the past few years, you’ll find that the school board proponents of such quackery were put out on their collective rump in subsequent elections. That would be a sign of the system working. Plus, what would the Dagger love better than for a monkey trial to come here?
And, Kate — If you take a look at the photos on MDJ’s website, you can find a shot of the profusely bearded Edmeades standing next to Clark Turner at some event. Nice. By the way, Edmeades was responsible for the very cool design of some of the new libraries in the county, including (I believe) Abingdon.
Cindy, at Monday’s BOE meeting Lee Merrill said he supports an elected BOE. We should all send him a thank you email. I’ll send mine this afternoon for sure. Mark Wolkow spoke right up to remind everyone that the official BOE position is against an elected board.
This country is a democracy and representation is for individuals, not business groups. What business group are you aware of that spends time, energy and money advocating for the future of our children? It is time for the public – parents – to have the vote, not special interests who have no idea of what goes on in schools day-to-day. We need people on the School Board who have evaluated the policies, prodcedures, programs and scheduling incorporated in our schools, not political appointees with business conflicts of interest.
SZQ- The obviuos answer to your question about what business group spends time, energy, and money on our childrens’ future is:
The businesses in the education business! And the building business, designing business, sales, etc.
Those that would benefit from contracts, expansions, programs. I don’t know too many philanthropic contractors.
The people who think they know how to spend your money better than you do…
Parent, taxpayer and businessman says
Let’s not forget which type of business benefits the most from incompetence and/or unaccountability in the school system: Learning Centers! I would love to know how many 100’s 0f thousands of dollars Huntington has earned from tutoring Harford’s school children who have been victims of such self-serving and misrepresented initiatives such as “everyday math” or “the block schedule”. Is it any wonder that the president of Huntington (who has also made his way to the presidency of Dr. Haas’ Harford Business Round Table) is just fine with the status quo?!?!? The HBRT is an ultra small minority of business people (less than 30). And they are controlled and spoken for by an even smaller minority (2 or 3 people). And these 2 or 3 people are VERY close to certain board members and the superintendent; and they are extremely conflicted. And yet they purport to speak for a large constituency (which they certainly do NOT). It’s arrogant, it’s blind, it’s corrupt, and they should stop.
HBRT Comment: “Having been close observers of the Board for many years, we believe the appointment system has given us a stronger Board than we have ever had”.
Response: A close observer would realize that the appointment system is the only system that Harford County has ever had. How then does one make such a statement?
HRBT Comment: “The members of the current Board have exhibited independence and a willingness to make difficult decisions. They are confronted with rapid growth, an aging infrastructure, tight budgets and underfunded mandates from state and federal agencies. With the lowest per student funding in the state, they are leading a system which consistently ranks among the top performing counties”.
Response: Using this logic means that Governor O’Malley should keep the current Nancy Grasmick-after all Maryland currently ranks third in the Nation.
HBRT Comment: “In the past year or so, there have been many voices calling for change. As we understand it the call for change arises from the concern, real or perceived, that the Board members must be “more accountable” and should not be political appointees of the Governor”.
Response: The taxpayers of Harford County want a SIMPLE process, one complete with checks and balances. Most successful organizations understand the importance of oversight. What oversight (checks and balances) are provided for with the appointment process?
HBRT Comment: “We strongly agree with the second point but question what “accountability” means. Too often we fear it means, “You did not do what I want”.
Response: This is what accountability means to us: Accountability is defined as “A is accountable to B when A is obliged to inform B about A’s (past or future) actions and decisions, to justify them, and to suffer punishment in the case of eventual misconduct” . In leadership roles, accountability is the acknowledgment and assumption of responsibility for actions, products, decisions, and policies including the administration, governance and implementation within the scope of the role or employment position and encompassing the obligation to report, explain and be answerable for resulting consequences. To whom is the appointed school board accountable?
HBRT Comment: We do believe that the now defunct Permanent Nominating Committee failed in large part because: a) it did not encompass the wide variety of educational
Response: Who determines who are the educational stakeholders?) stakeholders in the County
c) “the Governor could, and often did, chose to ignore its recommendations”. Response: Local control means at least to me that the local tax payers select local school board representatives who sat on their local school board. How does a community un-select a selected board member?
Putting this altogether, it makes you realize the background to some of the hairbrain redistricting ideas in the Fallston/Bel Air area not too long ago. Gee, I wonder if the HBRT/devlopers had any play in that??
The real questions are: a) should we continue to support those elected (public servants) officials who time after time continue to iqnore the people who put them in office. If we do then we deserve exactly the kind of representation that they provide. b) When will we realize that We-the people, are the real power.
c) How do we sell the BRAC parents of school-aged children on the idea that the democratic process is alive and well in Harford County, but they must join one of the nine special interest groups if they want to have a say in the governance of Harford County Schools?
Parent, taxpayer and businessman says
Excellent points Jansen.
And to your point: Mary Dulaney James is vigorously and insincerely fighting our attempts to have a say in our children’s education, ie have a vote as to how our children are educated. Of course, SHE had a vote as to how HER children are educated….she voted with her feet and put them in the Tome School in Cecil County. The arrogance and audacity is overwhelming! She should be ashamed of herself, and her constituents should remind her of that. If this initiative is defeated, it will be because she has maneuvered behind the scenes to kill it, with misinformation.
By the way, Nancy Jacobs, is fighting the elected school board also; she is just doing it behind the scenes. She needs to be reminded too, and at least be forced to take a public stand on it. Because if she is going to do the bidding of a handful of campaign contributors who oppose elections, she should say so.