A change allowing more access to Baltimore County Board of Education members is not dissuading some activist from a demand for an elected school board.
School Board President Larry Schmidt Wednesday issued a statement announcing changes to the Baltimore County Public Schools website.
“The Board has made transparency and increased and open communications among its most important goals and priorities, and this web feature is one more way we can honor that commitment,” Schmidt said in his statement. “We look forward to hearing from parents, teachers, students – any member of Team BCPS who wants to share their views, concerns or questions with us.”
Schmidt said the new contact page allows members of the public to contact the board as a whole or send messaged to individual members. The site provides a form that can be filled out rather than email addresses of specific members. It is not clear who reads messages sent through the site.
Previously, school reform advocates have complained that they could not easily contact board members. Emails sent to board members were read by a school system employee who worked for the board.
Schmidt, in his statement, emphasized reforms made by the board under his term as president. Those changes include live streaming board of education meetings on the schools system website and adding a page explaining the board’s roles and responsibilities.
Advocates for school board reform praised the move as a positive step but said the changes do not negate the need for an elected school board.
“This is about creating a democratic process,” said Yara Cheik, president of the Parent-Teacher Association at Hampton Elementary and advocate for an elected school board. “This is about accountability.”
Currently, school board members in Baltimore County are appointed by the governor based on recommendations by the county executive. The large majority of counties in Maryland have some form of elected school board.
Opponents of an elected school board, including Schmidt, have emphasized recent changes made by the board and the retirement of long-time Superintendent Joe A. Hairston as reasons to not change how board members are selected.
Legislators have been close in the last two years to passing a bill that would create a board comprised of some elected and some appointed members. That bill died earlier this year after Sen. Ed Kasemeyer withdrew his support.
Cheikh said Schmidt took her to lunch after the bill was defeated and promised to include a way to contact board members on the revamped website.
“It’s one thing to be able to contact the board,” Cheikh said. “It’s another thing to have them be responsive and have accountability.”