In a letter dated April 14th, the Harford County Board of Education has asked Governor Martin O’Malley to veto the legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly that would create a partially elected school board in Harford County.
Citing technical problems with the transition from the current, 7-member board to a 9-member board made up of 6 elected and 3 appointed members, board attorney Patrick Spicer asked the Governor to veto the bill because it presents “potentially intractable practical difficulties with implementation”. The letter goes on to say that the concerns “in no way relate to the merits of the bills as a matter of legislative policy.” Really?
The language in the bills relating to the transition appear in the uncodified section and if “intractable” problems exist, they can worked out by the board itself or through amendments in the next session. So what’s the need for a veto? Also interesting is that the first of the board’s two stated concerns is a problem that might occur if the two board members whose terms expire in 2012 are “unable to agree” as to which one’s term concludes in 2011 and which one’s term will conclude in 2015 as called for during the transition phase. Those two board members would be Robin Rich and the board’s most vocal opponent of school board elections, Mark Wolkow.
Here’s the full text of the letter:
Dear Governor O’Malley:
Please be advised that I represent the Board of Education of Harford County (the “Board”). The purpose of this letter is to request that you veto either or both of the above bills, as applicable, due to the Board’s concerns regarding certain language contained in the bills as more fully explained below. The Board understands that either or both of the above bills have been passed by the General Assembly and have been or will be forwarded to you by the General Assembly for approval.
The Board’s concerns and its corresponding request for veto are conveyed solely because the Board believes the bills, as written, contain language which results in the bills failing to meet their stated purpose and which presents potentially intractable practical difficulties in implementation. The concerns, more fully discussed below, are confined solely to the matters discussed herein and in no way relate to the merits of the bills as a matter of legislative policy. The Board’s concerns are twofold and are as follows.
1. The potential impasse relating to the Board members whose terms are currently scheduled to expire in 2012.
The bills provide in Section 3(a) thereof that one of the two appointed Board members whose term is scheduled to expire on June 30, 2012 shall terminate at the end of June 30, 2011. The bills also provide in Section 3(c) thereof that the term of the other appointed member whose term is scheduled to expire on June 30, 2012 shall terminate at the end of June 30, 2015.
The bills do not, however, include any language which provide a mechanism to determine which of these two current appointed members shall be the specific individual member whose term shall terminate at the end of June 30, 2011, and which of these two such members shall be the specific individual member whose term shall terminate at the end of June 30, 2015.
Should the two Board members whose terms are currently scheduled to expire on June 30, 2012 be unable to agree as to which one’s term concludes at the end of June 30, 2011 (as provided for in Section 3(a)) as opposed to concluding at the end of June 30, 2015 (as provided for in Section 3(c)), the bills provide no method to resolve such an impasse or stalemate.
2. The contraction of the Board to six members as of July 1, 2009 and failure to expand the Board beyond eight members after June 30, 2011.
Section 3(d) of the bills provide that the term of the one appointed member whose term is scheduled to expire on June 30, 2015 shall terminate at the end of June 30, 2015, and that the member appointed by the Governor in 2014 shall succeed the appointed member whose term expires on June 30, 2015, and serve for a term of 4 years until a successor is appointed and qualifies.
Currently, however, there is no appointed Board member whose term is scheduled to expire on June 30, 2015. The bills do provide in Section 3(c) that, as of July 1, 2009, three members’ terms shall terminate at the end of June 30, 2015. However, these three Board member positions are in addition to the Board member position referred to in Section 3(d) because they are the subject of a different section (3(c)) and because they are to be replaced by election rather than appointment. Thus, Section 3(d) of the bills refers to an appointed Board member whose term does not exist currently and will not exist on or after July 1, 2009.
Furthermore, the term of a current Board member is not mentioned or referred to in the bills. The term of Board Member Lee Merrell expires on June 30, 2009 under current law. The bills do not refer to the term of any appointed member whose term is scheduled to expire on June 30, 2009, nor do they provide any mechanism for the reappointment of Mr. Merrell or appointment of a successor to fill this Board member position. As a result of same, it appears that the bills provide no basis or authority for you to either reappoint Mr. Merrell or appoint a successor to Mr. Merrell. Further, current law (codified at Section 3-108 of the Education Article which provides for appointment of all Harford County Board of Education members) cannot be relied upon to reappoint Mr. Merrell or appoint his successor, as such law is abrogated and superseded by the above bills effective July 1, 2009, the same date when the term of Mr. Merrell or his successor would be effective. Consequently, effective July 1, 2009, it would appear that the Board would function with only six members until July 1, 2011.
The bills’ erroneous reference to an appointed member whose term does not exist and/or the failure to address Mr. Merrell’s term appear to result in the following outcomes. As of July 1, 2009, the Board’s membership would contract to six voting members until July 1, 2011 (when it would expand to eight members) and the Board’s membership would never expand to nine voting members. Such a result conflicts with other language of the bills which state that there shall be nine voting members of the Board.
For the reasons stated above, the Board requests that you veto either or both bills upon presentation for signature. Please feel free to contact me should you have any further questions or need for information regarding the above.
With kind regards, I am
Patrick P. Spicer
Cc: The Honorable Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr. (regular mail)
The Honorable Michael E. Busch (regular mail)
Mr. Joseph C. Bryce, Office of the Governor, Chief Legislative Officer (via fax and regular mail)
Ms. Elizabeth D. “Betty” Anderson, Office of the Governor, Special Assistant Legislative Office (via fax and regular mail)
Ms. Patricia A. Foerster, Office of the Governor, Education Policy Advisor (via fax and regular mail)
Mr. Patrick L. Hess, President of the Board
Members of the Board
Ms. Patricia L. Skebeck, Interim Superintendent
Political pressure is required to get this bill signed NOW! The governor cannot afford to weaken his position in Harford County, and the bill doesn’t impact any where else. This will be about votes!
The governor’s office must be over run with calls. Call
Currently the mail box is full, and you get a loop as no attendant picks up. If you call and say you want “the governor’s support for HB 639 and SB 629, blended board in Harford,” they’ll get the message. You have to hold fora minute in the loop, but you’ll eventually get a person. The more calls the better!
Is there an e-mail address? And have the PTAs been notified?
Here’s the link to e-mail the governor. It does require a log in form.
Amazed in Harford says
Just when you when think Mr. Wolkow has hit bottom, he starts to tunnel. The arrogance and dishonesty of this effort are a disgrace. And I am shocked that the rest of the board allowed it. It is taking logistical technicalities that can be easily remedied, and using them to try to defy the will of the people and the will of the elected representatives of the citizens of Harford county. Just because he didn’t get his way. The ARROGANCE!
Mr. Wolkow used his position over the past few years and tried hard to lobby against an elected school board and he failed (in fact, every time he opened his mouth to talk down to his audiences with his preachy illogic, he convinced more people that they should be FOR elections). He misstated data; he drew selective and erroneous correlations; he attempted to falsely scare people into thinking that the move towards elections and accountability was a political caper. All to no avail.
But Mark knows better than all of us unenlightened malcontents, doesn’t he? We are clueless. We are mere naysayers and couldn’t possibly have good points or good motives, because we disagree with the administration or board. No, its not good enough for him that he has laid at the feet of the administration and completely shirked his own duties of oversight for the past 6 years with no accountability to the people; its not good enough for him that that he tried unsuccessfully and disingenuously to undermine the efforts FOR accountability; now he is using the board (and its last shreds of credibility) to attempt to reverse something that was fairly arrived at. He’s completely lost it. It is stunning.
Looks like its time to go to a referendum for a fully-elected board.
PMS Mom says
The only “intractable practical difficulties” are that the current school board doesn’t want elected members and therefore won’t figure out how to implement this. They’d rather pay a lawyer to figure out how NOT to implement this then use some common sense and move into the 21st century with an Elected School Board. Go to the website above and send Gov. O’Malley an email supporting this issue. Then go to the HCPS website and let the Board know how you feel too!
Link to e-mail the annointed (oops, appointed) school board members. Perhaps we should send them a Dagger link too and suggest they add it to their favorites!
Another Frustrated Parent says
Wasn’t there someone recently at a County Council meeting who said he was stunned by the HUBRIS of the Board of Education.
Mr. Wolkow has spent a lot of time fighting elections in this county but has spent little or no time on serious policy issues that directly impact students. He goes out to meetings and gets involved with state MABE issues but doesn’t want to get involved with the bothersome issues that have to do with the students in Harford County schools. Why did it take an outside like Mr. Plunkett to deal with the LICW class when the school board has known it’s a problem for the past several years.
I guess it gets down to the fact that when you are in power you don’t want to give it up. Mr. Wolkow just wants to be in control of everything in Harford County public schools and is still trying to thwart the will of the voters. I think we should get rid of all of the Board members and start new. We really don’t need any continuity on the Board because the veteran Board members who “THINK” they are smarter than everyone else try to unduly influence the ones who are new and indoctrinate them into their way of thinking.
Unfortunately, Mr. Merrill will probably lose his seat since he is one of the Board members who hasn’t lost sight of what his job is and who he represents.
Lee Merrell’s term is scheduled to end June 30, 2009. The new law doesn’t have any impact on that. While this means there is no adverse impact on Mr. Merell, it also means that the Board’s second point is clearly incorrect. The term ends June 30, 2009, while the current law is in effect, and so a new appointment will have to be made under current law. Merell could even be reappointed.
There is no adverse impact from the new legislation, and the board’s complaint is erroneous.
Just got a call from Sen. Glassman saying he has been in touch with the attorney general’s office and his legislative drafter and he has been reassured that the law is both constitutional and proper for transitioning to the new board.
I guess a coin flip is out of the question to solve whose term ends when?
That said I don’t like this blend. Council Districts leave certian schools ignored for the benefit of others. I think if we have an elected board. There should be one per HS atendance district and an at large elected to be president (for HVT) That is 10 give the student member a vote for 11 voting members.
PMS Mom says
I really thought rock,paper, scissors or maybe pistols at 10 paces would solve the issue of whose term ended when.
I see on the hcps website that there is information on how to apply for Lee Merrell seat. The appointment is supposed to be made in June. I agree with Brian, this isn’t impacted by the new bill.
This strike me as a desparate attempt to stop a freight train. Will someone on the School Board tell me how spending taxpayer money for a lawyer to fight this is “In the best interest of the children.”
I believe this move will only seal the deal for an elected board in our county. If they are able to have this bill vetoed this year despite the overwhelming support of the citizens of HC along with the unanimous support of our elected officials, then I believe the bill should go to referendum. Mr. Wolkow is on record during his testimony stating that if the bill went to referendum that the citizens of HC would vote overwhelmingly in favor of having an elected board. Is it possible to get this on the ticket in 2010?? Let’s go for an all elected board. If they want to keep their positions, they are going to have to prove to the citizens that they are qualified.
The Governor makes the decision on which of the 2012 expirants goes home early, and which gets bonus time. I wonder if either will WANT to be done?
Cdev, that was an original proposal, but was too different from the rest of the country to get approval. Another was a blended board that required the 3 appointed members to be responsible for a school level (elementary, middle, and high) giving both geographic and level of student representation.
The new bill should provide better representation and responsiveness, and is a signature away from being law.
My problem with the council districts is this. Edgewood HS’s attendance distrisct pulls from 3 different council district. In none of which they are the majority. When these elected members go catering to citizens for votes they will provide to the schools making up the bulk of their constituancy. i.e. District B will give tons of things to Fallston and ignore Edgewood since by making Fallston happy they will get more votes. This will lead to a situation of ignored schools!
BTW did anyone ever bother to do a poll of all the citizens on this or did we assume since a group of people got vocal that everyone felt the same way?
Sinne Cal says
This issue has been around for YEARS with ample opportunity for anyone interested to speak out. The vast majority of those vocal citizens were those for an elected board. I have to say that in the very few meetings I attended, the people speaking were mostly from around the county seat–even at one meeting I attended in Edgewood. The people working in the Bel Air area were pretty vocal and organized and they were early users of e-mail; the Aegis–primarily a Bel Air publication–also gave it extensive coverage, which may also be a reason people a bit farther from Bel Air didn’t hear as much.
As I see it, one of the biggest problems with the school board is that people are so uninformed that they don’t realize we don’t have an elected board. People who come here from other places can’t even imagine we have an appointed board because it is nearly unheard of anywhere else in the country. Heck, I have talked someone who sat on the nominating committee and swore that we had an elected school board because the person sat on the committee that elected it. That is just crazy but true. I felt as though I was in a Jay Leno sketch.
The HCPS administration needs to work tirelessly toward educational equity in the county, but the bottom line is that–and this is not a judgment–money makes a difference. People who have money can pay for extra help their kids might need. They might also have more education so they can tell that their children are missing important skills. Teachers have too large of a class load to figure things out for individual children and don’t have time for individual help. It’s a vicious cycle.
PMS Mom says
I don’t think an elected school board will have much effect on the distribution of funds to the various schools. Besides, even if 1 person represented each high school, the elementary schools would be divided amoung 2 or 3 board members.
As for the vocal many, I’m one of them. Many years ago, I sat in a Bel Air Middle School Back-to-school night where they (maybe Cindy was there??) passed around a petition on having an Elected School Board. The best I could tell, nearly everyone signed. For many of us, this is a huge issue becuase the current board isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do. It’s supposed to provide oversight of the school system. Instead they rubber-stamp everything that’s presented to them. They are supposed to exercise some fiscal responsibility with MY MONEY. Instead they hire more administrators for the Taj Mahal and put 36 students in a class (yes, that’s a real number), and cut AP offerings. I could go on…
PMS mom you are very concerned with specific needs that affect you. Sometimes the board has to act in the best interest of everyone and they may conflict with the interests of the one.
BTW the person who said that appointed boards are few and far between. That may be because BOE’s have taxing authority in many states. Ours does not. Some elected boards are very disfunctional because they spend election years catering to specific constituencies and not looking long term. PG had their elected board taken away for a while because of this very problem.
I am not saying elected boards are bad or I oppose one but they have problems.
Funding is dictated by the county council. Look at the Red Pump Campus Hills mess. Who ultimatley get’s what they want? Harford has one of the lowest per pupil spending costs in the state. We get by very cheap for the size of our county. If we want more then we need to pay more for it.
Additionally the “Taj Mahal” as you speak of it is actually very small for the size of our system. Some of the administration offices are severly understaffed. The person who said they are spending money on a lawyer for this must not be aware Patrick Spicer is the permenant lawyer for the BOE and this is his job.
I think all this dialogue is great and reinforces why as citizens and taxpayers we should have a vote.
Is the elected board the answer to all our concerns? Unless I wear rose colored glasses, I think not. Is it going to be an improvement to our current appointment process? You betcha. Both types of boards have pros and cons. WE need t one with the pros that help us the most and the cons we can tolerate.
Lets face it –currently the governor selects someone to sit on HCPS BOE– an individual with some connections who fits the “mold”. Some of these people may bring a lot to the table..however it really doesn’t matter …the Gov chooses.
Now with the proposed blended board this same person can still be on our BOE..he/she just needs to run, OR still get appointed. The interested applicant needs to let us (the voters, taxpayers) know what their positions are regarding the State of HCPS. I do wear rose colored glasses at time and I believe that a number of members on our current board believe they are trying to do what is best for the children of this county.
However in the past 2-4 years there have been several valid issues raised concerning the education of our students and the BOE appears to give blanket endorsements to the superintendent and HCPS Admin. They don’t appear interested in hearing from parents, teachers or students either. The plan to implement a magnet at BAHS is one example. Their arrogance when confronted with the lack of sufficient seating of the proposed new auditorium at BAHS is another. Although a solution was offered by the Town of Bel Air, the BOE resisted. Eventually there was an acceptable resolution but the BOE was kicking and fighting the entire time.
And lets not forget their resistance to polling graduating students for their insights into the block schedule vs the one prior. This year’s class is the last class that had any other schedule,Class of 2007 or 08 would have been ideal, but the board never got their act together. Isn’t it sad that already kids are made to feel like their voice doesn’t count?
Lets hope the Gov makes the right decision and listens to our “elected” officials who supported this legislation.
I made the mistake of emailing Mark one time because I was thinking it would be smarter not to have all those half days, teacher planning during the school day, conventions, etc. start school after Labor Day and get out before they have to be closed due to heat. After he read his resume to me and told me what an idiot because I had the nerve to question him he reassured me he is the supreme school god for the county and he would decide the schedule. Mark keep reaching for the life ring!
Muzzy in all fairness I do not know if you canned every day off except holiday’s if you could have the required 180 days by starting after labor day and finish before memorial day. Unless we had school on Saturday’s. If we had a schedule like that watch how many kids would miss school. There are parent’s who already go on family trips and see nothing wrong with taking their kids out for a week and expect that their child will just jump back into the swing of things like they missed nothing.
PMS Mom says
About a year ago, The Sun ran an article on schools districts with the most administrators. This was at the time Andres Alonzo was moving Baltimore City Admin out of North Ave. and back into teaching positions in schools. As I recall, Harford County was #3 or 4 in having the highest percentage of admin personnel in the state. Baltimore City was #1. Building the Roberty Building with the plush Board room was a slap in the face of all teachers and students who were (and still are) sweltering in schools that don’t have air conditioning and are falling apart due to lack of maintenance.
The last district I lived in has 20,000 students. The admin filled 4 or 5 TRAILERS outside one of the high schools. The ELECTED board rotated around the different schools for board meetings. All the schools were well maintained and air conditioned with no trailers. Yes, they really did what was best for the children.
Parent, Taxpayer and Businessman says
If the board’s intent has nothing to do with the “merits” of the bill, as they claim, why do they advocate a veto instead of advocating fixing the minor transitional issues.
This is one thing and one thing only: Mr. Wolkow did not get his way and, in a fit of his usual misguided hubris, he has manipulated the board to try and kill it. Shame on the board for allowing him to do it. Shame, yet again, on Mr. Wolkow for thinking he’s smarter and knows better than the rest of us; and for completely disregarding the will of the citizens as manifested by the legislative process. This is nothing but more validation of the urgent need for the election and accountability of school board members!
Maybe Mr. Wolkow’s biography will be written someday. The title of it could be, “The Audacity of Audacity”.