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Joanne Heckman's Testimony at 12/1/15 Howard County Delegation Hearing (9-16)

Position: Support

The People’s Voice, LLC is an advocacy group promoting accountable and transparent government in Howard County. The People’s Voice supports the proposal to safeguard the Maryland Public Information Act with regard to school system information.

The Howard County Public School System is regulated by an elected Board, and is funded by our elected county officials using our tax dollars. We, the people, own the schools. We own every action, every document, every expenditure. Through our oversight of our schools, through our votes for responsible regulation of the system’s budget and its operating policies, we are accountable. Every citizen is accountable for the success of the one county institution that has the greatest impact on our prosperity and future. And, every adult in the county has a responsibility for the well-being of the 53,000 minors we entrust to that institution every year.

This is a social contract established between the citizens and the school system. The contract is broken when the school system acts in secret. We’re not asking for anyone’s personal data. We’re asking for the institutional records that we, the voters and tax-payers, funded.

Renee Foose, HCPSS Superintendent, stated in testimony to the Howard County Delegation to the State Assembly, that fulfilling PIA requests costs money, money that HCPSS could spend elsewhere. Yet she is currently spending $9000 per month on legal fees to deny PIA requests.

Surely transparency would be cheaper.

We shouldn’t need the Maryland Public Information Act to pry secrets out of the school system. We shouldn’t need the Open Meetings law to compel open meetings. We shouldn’t need to go to court to request reports on educational programs that we ourselves paid for.

But we do. We have to ask the Delegation to impose state laws specifically on our own school system, of all the school systems in Maryland, because the institution we fund and the Board we elect in Howard County refuse to follow the existing laws.

The People’s Voice LLC urges you to strengthen the MPIA by demanding more accountability, and more transparency, from our public institution.

Sunlight is the best of disinfectants. It exposes structural defects and rot. It can even kill mold. We need more of it in our school system.

Thank you.

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