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Rediscovering the ‘elected school board'

Hollywood, MD - The recent imbroglio involving the Calvert County Board of Education (BOE) is very troubling to me—but perhaps not in the way you might think. Let me first say, school safety is a huge concern of mine. I have four nieces who are teachers. They teach in larger counties (three in Howard, one in Montgomery). I also have great nieces and nephews who are students from Maryland to California. The spate of violence in schools is chilling. I am a longtime Southern Maryland resident and like the rest of you, the March 20 incident at Great Mills High saddens me. Our community is changed forever. I also must admit I too, am disappointed that the majority of Calvert’s BOE members were not willing to at the very least, weigh in on the subject of school safety when it was brought up at their March 22 work session. Safety—not testing, not employee salaries and benefits or even transportation—is now the hottest topic in public education. The agenda should have included at least a skull session to flesh out the representatives’ feelings. It’s regrettable that a majority of this talented board was, collectively, at a loss for words.

With all that said, I am even more disappointed that it took something like this for the residents of Calvert County to rediscover their elected school board. You see, there was a time the county had an appointed school board. Those who gained appointments were actually quite good and made wise decisions. Many did parlay that experience into local political careers. However, some of the political people in the community were not happy with the way the members were selected. The Democrats held a majority for several decades and appointment to the panel went through the party’s central committee for a recommendation to the governor. As you can imagine, Republicans were not happy with this and mounted a campaign to transition Calvert into a county with an elected school board. The voters did so overwhelmingly in a 1995 referendum. The following year dozens of citizens threw their hats in the ring. The first candidates’ forum resembled an American Idol cattle call. The end result was a pretty good board and several of the candidates who didn’t win election were encouraged to try again. Alas, four of the five candidates who lost in the 1996 General Election never gave it another try.

Recently, interest in serving on the BOE appears to have waned. None of the candidates who lost in the 2016 campaign filed to run in 2018. Two incumbents—at large members Pam Cousins and Bill Phalen—filed prior to the deadline. Even prior to this year, there appeared to be a noticeable lack of interest in running for school board. About 10 years ago, the chairmen of the two major parties’ local central committees conducted a joint recruiting drive (the BOE elections are nonpartisan). In fact the most interest shown in the BOE occurred in 2014 after the General Election when a sitting member resigned. The vacancy prompted several individuals living in the same election district to seek—get this—an appointment to the board!

So now, several individuals who had no bone to pick with the current BOE prior to the March 22 work session are ready to conduct write-in campaigns. Evidently, it took this one issue to spark the rediscovery of something that was so clamored for over a generation ago. While it’s good to see this, here’s a reminder to the wannabes. As a BOE member, there will be other issues besides safety you will have to tackle. Grandstanding is not leadership. You will be under the microscope of irate parents, teachers and other employees for a variety of issues. You might want to view other past meetings (besides the final minutes of the March 22 session) to see what they are. You get a stipend not a salary. You think musicals aren’t important? You better show your face at a few and other events like science fairs, volleyball games and band recitals or your commitment to our outstanding, achieving kids will be questioned. Pray and pray hard that the issue of elementary school redistricting never comes up on the agenda. If it does you might want to disconnect your phone. When the next hot issue in education blindsides you, it might well be that you are the one who finds yourself at a loss for words.

Good luck! See you on the campaign trail?

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com

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