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Updated: Freshmen Council Members Call for Accountability through Elected School Board

Almond, Bevins, Huff and Marks position stands in opposition to council Chairman Olszewski's.

UPDATED(4:12 p.m.)—Citing a need for greater transparency and accountability, four freshmen Baltimore County council members have signed a letter calling for the creation of a hybrid school board.

"While we believe the school system is fundamentally strong, there are disturbing issues that have eroded the trust that must exist between parents and those who lead our public schools," reads a letter released by Councilwoman Vicki Almond. "The new [president] of the school board has taken steps to improve accessibility and transparency, and we salute his leadership—but we also believe that legislative changes are needed to ensure local accountability."

The letter to state Senator Kathy Klausmeier and Del. Steve Lafferty is signed by Almond and Councilwoman Cathy Bevins and Republican Councilmen Todd Huff and David Marks. All four were elected to their first terms last November.

Almond said change is needed to foster more accountability to county residents.

"I just feel that there really needed to be a change, to be a bold step," Almond said.

The letter comes as the 12-member task force led by Klausmeier and Lafferty begins working on a report and possible recommendations regarding the county school board.

Klausmeier, in an interview Wednesday morning, said she had not seen the letter and couldn't comment.

Don Mohler, a spokesman and chief of staff to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, said the letter does little to change the county's position on elected school boards.

"The county executive believes that elected school boards work best when they have independent fiscal authority," Mohler said. "Since it doesn't seem reasonable to expect that school boards in Baltimore County will have fiscal autonomy any time soon, a elected school board would not be a viable option."

The task force was created earlier this year and charged with reviewing the composition of the county's appointed Board of Education.

Klausmeier said there are three basic options: a hybrid elected/appointed board, a fully elected board or to allow the governor to continue to appoint members.

Nationally, 93 percent of all school boards have some form of elected membership, according to Kitty Blumsack, of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.

Locally, Baltimore County is one of four appointed boards of education.

The letter sent by the council members calls for the creation of a hybrid school board. Seven members of the hybrid board would be made up of members elected from each of the seven council districts. The other four would be appointed.

The four council members said the hybrid model "would attract the broadest support possible and actually pass the Maryland General Assembly."

Sen. Delores Kelley, who is a member of the task force, and others have opposed a partial or fully elected school board saying that it could limit diversity.

Mohler added Wednesday that Kamenetz believes any lost of diversity "would be a step in the wrong direction for the county."

But in their letter, the four council members say giving four appointments to the county executive would allow for the selection "of members reflective of the county's diversity."

"It's a tough subject," Almond said of changes to the school board. "Everyone wants a perfect solution and there is none."

The call for a hybrid board

Olszewski is a member of the school board task force, and he has talked about wanting to continue with the current system for filling school board positions—but with members appointed by the county executive rather than the governor.

"We didn't really ask permission," Almond said. "We did alert him to what we were doing. It was the courteous thing to do. We didn't expect him to sign the letter. We know how he feels."

The council, which has five freshmen members, continues to show a willingness to take public stands on issues outside of their roles as local legislators. This is different from councils over the last two decades.

In interviews earlier this year, Almond and Marks said they would support state legislators who wanted to create a hybrid or fully elected school board.

In June, five of seven council members signed a letter urging county residents to that would place a bill granting in-state tuition rates to some illegal immigrants on the 2012 ballot.

The school board task force held the last of its three public meetings last week.

It's expected to deliver a to the county's delegates and senators by Oct. 1.

Dundalkwatchdog August 03, 2011 at 08:51 PM
Maybe the Council Chair figures if we are stupid enough to keep electing him, we are too stupid to elect the school board.
Baltimore County Parent August 03, 2011 at 08:57 PM
By the way, where are Ken Oliver and Tom Quirk on this issue? I think it's a shame they did not also sign.
Paul Harvey August 04, 2011 at 12:50 AM
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again but expecting a different answer……….thank goodness we have new leaders born every day!
hometown August 04, 2011 at 01:58 AM
Excellent news
hometown August 04, 2011 at 02:00 AM
This was Senator Zirkin's legislation in the Senate this year. He has been trying this for years. Great job to the new council members. Unbelievable that Kamenetz wants more power for himself. Power to the voters!
David Marks August 04, 2011 at 02:45 AM
I'd like to thank the commenters here who actually referenced the subject of the article...and I'd like to thank Bryan Sears, who wrote a great piece and put that letter right where any sane and intelligent reader could find it!
Paul Harvey August 04, 2011 at 03:06 PM
The so called "FRESHMEN" Council Members are clearly the "TRUE" County Leaders! Thank you to Vicki Almond, Cathy Blevins, Todd Huff & David Marks for being proactive on this issue. ((( Just goes to show the kind of creative vision bipartisanship can yield )))
Richard Cook August 04, 2011 at 03:18 PM
Mr. Marks, Politicians such as yourself, who want to divide our communities, are looking backwards to the segregationist past, when ethnic minorities lived in isolated communities, cut off from educational advances and other services available to the majority. We are not going back to the bad old days of racial and ethnic divisions- no matter how much you might prefer that.
Neversure August 04, 2011 at 03:21 PM
As a Towson resident, I am proud that we had the good fortune to be able to elect Mr. Marks to be our representative. He has shown over and over again his responsiveness to his constituents. He is able to look at things as they have always been, and consider whether or not a change is needed. Thank you David Marks.
Richard Cook August 04, 2011 at 03:53 PM
On June 7, the Towson Patch reported that five members of the Baltimore County Council had signed "a letter" inviting SOME of the residents of our county to sign petitions telling OTHER residents of our county that they ought to forget about sending their children to community college at the in-state rate. This prompted the obvious letter-type question: who was such a letter addressed to ? - the Baltimore County residents these council members do not want around ? - or, the rest of the residents, who are to be mobilized against the interests of the first set of residents? Now, after the petition deadline has come and gone and whatever grand or slight advantage to signature gathering has also come and gone, we are told what we suspected - there never was a "letter." These hearty, brave politicians wanted to SAY they had signed a letter; they actually did not dare sign such a horrible, divisive document. This would be like Anne Frank's neighbors turning in the Frank family to the police - but without actually signing a police report. Anne and her sister, ILLEGAL JEWS, were deported to Auschwitz even if those neighbors never sign on the dotted line. Well, we do not live in an occupied country, where we must fear deportation and death for protecting the children of the unrepresented, the excluded and the hunted. Almond, Bevins, Huff, Marks, Olszewski - Politicians who pretend they have the courage of their convictions - are not the kind of elected leaders we need.
Glen August 04, 2011 at 04:01 PM
Mr. Cook, A quick browse through Webster-Meriam dictionary for "resident" leads to the definition of "reside" as: to occupy a place as one's legal domicile. No one has proposed denying in-state tuition to legal residents of Maryland or Baltimore County as you suggest. I have been a proponent of giving Baltimore County control of its own School Board for a long time. The proposed hybrid selection is not perfect, but is far better than the current process. It is deplorable that we have one of the largest school systems in the country led by a Superintendent who arogantly defies the citizens and elected officials of Baltimore County, and a School Board that is out of touch.
K Blue August 04, 2011 at 04:02 PM
Mr. Cook, I totally disagree with what you have written here. Mr. Marks is not a racist.
Joseph Erving August 04, 2011 at 04:20 PM
Mr Cook "Almond, Bevins, Huff, Marks, Olszewski - Politicians who pretend they have the courage of their convictions - are not the kind of elected leaders we need." ???? No, according to you, we need appointed leaders with no public accountability on the School Board!
David Marks August 04, 2011 at 04:23 PM
Folks, Mr. Cook doesn't deserve a response anymore. End of story.
Tim August 04, 2011 at 04:24 PM
He hasn't deserved a response for weeks. It's why I haven't bothered. I only debate with intelligent people.
Mike Lurz August 04, 2011 at 09:02 PM
I suspect this Cook person and Armstrong person are one and the same. For any or all who care, our county council is there to represent the needs and interests of Baltimore County residents. If you are not from Baltimore County, then they do not represent you and you cannot vote them in or out. As a tax paying citizen of Baltimore County I am pleased with the declaration in this matter and fully support it, as have the majority of people I've spoken to. Those who oppose that I have spoken to, either are not citizens of Baltimore County, or Maryland, are illegals or those who represent or in some way profit from illegals. So in short, it seems to work just fine.
Robert Armstrong August 04, 2011 at 09:38 PM
Blow it out your arse Mikey. I went to junior high with you. LaSalle Rd, remember?
Jimmy August 04, 2011 at 11:08 PM
Seems to me Mr Cook is not far off base. How can someone be a legal resident if he is an ILLEGAL alien. If he has no legal reason to be in the US, than why should he reep the benefits of someone that is here LEGALLY. To Neversure, I am glad you like that Mr Marks is representing the Towson citizens. It seems he is forgetting that he represents the Perry Hall residents as well. "The county executive believes that elected school boards work best when they have independent fiscal authority," Mohler said. "Since it doesn't seem reasonable to expect that school boards in Baltimore County will have fiscal autonomy any time soon, a elected school board would not be a viable option." As far as What Mr Kamentez " believes", He is not paid to believe, he is paid to represent those that live in the county. If their voice is ignored, then we don't live in a democracy anymore, we live in a dictatorship. If the citizens want an elected schoolboard, the county exec needs to find a way to make it happen.
Mike Lurz August 05, 2011 at 03:41 AM
Jimmy, assuming that is really your name, Mr. Cook has made several comments on these pages that force me not to take him seriously, including his unfair and frankly wrong assessment of some of our duly elected representation.
Graham August 05, 2011 at 03:43 PM
Mr Armstrong you must be an employer. E verify cost employers nothing, it is a federal program that works!
Graham August 05, 2011 at 03:46 PM
And leave the power of appointment to the power brokers. Oh yeah, that is good politics. Those that are appointed are beholding to the appointees.
Graham August 05, 2011 at 03:48 PM
Mr Sears, you do have to show your Bona fides to anyone. You reporting speaks for itself.
Graham August 05, 2011 at 03:49 PM
Well put Mr. Lutz
Graham August 05, 2011 at 03:53 PM
I agree with the school board paragraphs Jimmy.
Graham August 05, 2011 at 03:55 PM
Not a bad question although I am reasonably sure they have good reasons for it. I would like to hear them.
Richard Cook August 05, 2011 at 10:04 PM
Washington Post editorial July 14 2011: . . . "The concerns about Maryland’s Dream Act are understandable; they’re also misplaced. They fail to recognize that the law is overwhelmingly in the state’s interest. Implement it, and thousands of ambitious, promising youngsters who have grown up in Maryland will have a chance to realize their potential as productive, taxpaying members of society. Repeal it, and those same youngsters will swell the ranks of the underclass, paying less in taxes, consuming more in services and living lives soured by the frustration of unrealized potential. "The demographic targeted by the Dream Act consists largely of teenagers who were brought by their parents to the United States, often as young children. Many have relatives who are citizens. They have grown up speaking English and are loyal to their adoptive country, attending and graduating from high school and regarding themselves as American in most or every way."
Richard Cook August 05, 2011 at 10:08 PM
BALTIMORE SUN AUG 5 2011 - LETTER FROM ALEX MOLINA: "I am a Latino immigrant to the U.S. My father brought us here with a sixth grade education. I am my family's first college graduate, and both of my daughters have master's degrees. I am appalled at the move to abolish theMaryland Dream Act. "Despite being restrictive, it gives deserving innocent children of undocumented workers a chance to get a college education. Why are they being punished? "This immigrant issue has reached new lows as the move by some of our legislators is nothing but racism. That is not the way to resolve this thorny issue. "I have experienced a change in attitude toward me — even from people I have known for a long time — when I stand up for Latino human rights. Because I am white, I often hear racists remarks about Latinos. I am hopeful that the people of Maryland will vote their conscience in November, 2012, if it gets that far." Alex Molina
Jason Danaher August 08, 2011 at 03:03 PM
I dont know what the the "dream act" has to do with this letter. I glad that instead of an intelligent response they just scream racism. In personally talking to Mr. Marks he a great guy. He just wants to put his nose to the grind stone and work. Not everyone is going to be happy we all need to learn the word compromise. I think the school boards in all of the state needs a make over. They all worried about a test to get funding and not education. which only hurts kids and teachers. I also see a problem with almost all of baltimore county schools are geared toward college. Not everyone wants or can go to college. What are kids that get out of school with a college prep degree supposed to do, wait tables or goto a "college" that advertises you can get a degree i n your underwear. I was one of those kids and am struggling.
Richard Cook August 12, 2011 at 01:38 AM
Jason, I appreciate your thoughtful response. You are right, in suggesting that students ought to receive a grounding for different career tracks, since not all students are headed for college. Where the DREAM Act comes into the discussion, is that it provides support for all college-bound kids, who are residents of Maryland, irrespective of their immigration status. That is both fair and beneficial to our state, and society, as we all gain when kids are able to get all the education they want and can handle. I am very disappointed when locally elected officials, such as county council members, go out of their way to divide our communities by telling some residents of the County that they are not welcome. This is a terrible message to send out to high school kids and raises the question, whether officials who hold this opinion have the best interests of students in mind, when they advocate educational policy. I have my doubts.
Robert Frisch April 03, 2012 at 01:20 AM
It is a good thing that these members of the County Council are showing some backbone. The County Council needs to be a balance to the County Executive - that is their job and the way our government was intended to work. As I have said before the voters need to remember the actions of those elected representatives that flouted or ignored your rights to exercise some accountability of those that sit on the school board, an entity that spends half of all county revenues.

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