Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Buck Stops

What do you do if no one will listen to you? Where do you turn when you feel that no one will advocate on your behalf?

This has been an ongoing problem for parents seeking redress for issues in the Howard County Schools: a lack of accountability. Central Office? Unresponsive. Board of Education? Not interested. County Executive? County Council? "We can't interfere."* When members of the Howard County Delegation began to show an interest, the floodgates opened and many members of the community turned out to have their say.

A high point for parents concerned about the mold at Glenwood Middle School was a Board of Public Works hearing in Annapolis with the Governor, the State Comptroller, among others. While these meetings are scheduled annually to discuss school construction funds, the Governor took the opportunity to express concerns about the unhealthy conditions at the school and the lack of communication with parents. State funds helped to build that school. How is Howard County showing good stewardship of that investment?

As relieved as parents were to learn of this exchange, it appears that some school system superintendents were equally displeased. In a letter from Theresa Alban, President of PSSAM (Public School Superintendents' Association of Maryland) and Superintendent of Frederick County Public Schools, Dr. Alban accuses the BPW committee of using the time "to advance political agendas." In light of this she suggests that the annual meetings with BPW are redundant and proposes that they be done away with.

It is an extremely odd letter. Perhaps superintendents are so used to being in charge of others that they chafe at being held accountable to a higher authority? How does one get around the fact that this is the Maryland State School System, and that, ultimately, all superintendents are answerable to Maryland State government when it comes to funding for school construction which is provided by state taxpayers?

It also comes across as a suggestion, "You know that part of my job evaluation that makes me uncomfortable? Yeah, let's skip that." No, these hearings are not job evaluations. But they certainly showcase whether or not a school system is doing its job responsibly when it comes to school buildings. You have to do your homework. And you have to be ready to defend your decisions and choices.

A few days later comes a blisteringly thorough response to Dr. Alban's letter from the office of Comptroller Peter Franchot. Written by Len Foxwell, Franchot's Chief of Staff, it addresses all of the issues raised in the letter, and more. In particular, he finds it odd that Dr. Alban takes issue with these hearings as she was not even present when they occurred.

After dealing with each objection, point by point, Foxwell sums up his response as follows:

In the absence of any merit, whatsoever, to your claims that the Board members used the IAC appeals meeting as a platform for inappropriate subjects, one can only conclude that your true objective, and that of your colleagues, is to solicit and receive hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars each year without the inconvenience of actually having to explain your request in a public forum.

Mic drop.

So it appears that there is someplace in the State of Maryland where the buck stops. And not everyone is happy about that.





*To be fair, we are now beginning to see some action from County leadership on the mold issue in our schools.








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