Teachers Association backs public forums on elected board

Several weeks ago, The Wicomico County Education Association testified against House Bill 1040 and Senate Bill 730 in Annapolis, which proposes to submit to referendum a proposal for conversion to a hybrid board of education, from our currently appointed one.

Through this column, I hope to clear up some confusion on our position in the public’s mind.

Local boards of education are supposed to be autonomous entities.They are held accountable by the students, parents, and community that they serve for meeting the educational needs of the students.

The primary way in which local school boards meet the needs of their students is by advocating for adequate resources and funding through its annual budget request to the county government.

WCEA feels under this hybrid proposal, that includes two appointments by the County Executive with approval by the council, the ability of the board to independently develop a budget request proposal that fully reflects the needs of the students would be undermined and unduly influenced by the ability of the executive and council to influence that request through its appointments.

Further, this bill provides that the County Executive and council could also appoint in the case of a vacancy on the board. This could completely erode the board’s autonomy by potentially allowing the Executive and council to appoint a majority of the members of the board.

WCEA had an even greater concern about the process by which this issue was presented.  It appears that there was very limited opportunity for a thorough vetting process by the community.

The issue was presented at one “hearing” that was not widely attended by the community. At the beginning of this meeting, the council members stated that they felt they had sufficiently taken the temperature of the community, and that the bill had already been presented to the county legislative delegation for introduction.

In addition, WCEA feels strongly that all school boards should and must reflect the diversity of our community and student population. Changing the process by which our school board is selected must not jeopardize the diversity of its members.

Therefore, we strongly believe that there has not been sufficient opportunity for discussion on this issue by the broader community.

Since the next election is not for two years, there would be plenty of time to properly engage the community and vet this issue in a transparent and inclusive process and introduce a bill in next year’s session in time for the election the following year.

With that said, WCEA has presented to the Wicomico County Council a proposal to help facilitate a discussion to engage the community in a proper dialogue on this issue putting all options on the table and building consensus from there.

WCEA foresees that this would entail convening a smaller workgroup that would consist of all segments of the community, with the final step being to hold public forums.

After community input and discussion, a bill that reflects the community’s wishes or allows the voters to select between several options could be introduced.

In our view, this is what true democracy looks like.

Government for the people, and more importantly, by the people.

Gary Hammer is the WCEA President.

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