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NO, It IS Broken and We DO Need to Fix It

On Tuesday, 12/1/15, the Howard County Delegation held a public hearing on new legislation. There was much testimony regarding two proposed Bills affecting the School System. One changes the way the Board of Education elections are held (to Councilmanic districts plus 2 at-large versus all countywide) and the other places stronger compliance requirements on the HCPSS to Public Information Act (PIA) requests.

An eloquent lady opposing the districting bill said that it was a drastic measure, and asked what was the drastic problem that required fixing. Much touting was done regarding our world-class educational system in HoCo - a sort of "it isn’t broken so don’t fix it" mentality. However - refusing public information requests; hounding individuals in court to pay the Board’s own exorbitant legal fees; and the controlling, dismissive nature toward any altering opinions on the Board - illuminate real and drastic problems. The environment fomented by HCPSS leadership has caused harm to students health regarding mold, and has brought about financial liability with the lack of communication. That and other wasteful financial decisions affect the students, because they affect the education budget and cause large-scale mistrust. That surely needs fixing.

The very issues people have been clamoring to expose were revealed in the opposition to these bills. The views expressed by Superintendent Foose, and duplicative testimony by staff and even students was actually symbolic of the controlling and oppressive attitude that has required these bills in the first place.

It was telling when Foose cited how many public information requests are made, and what it takes to fulfill them, as if burden justifies their obfuscating and secretive behavior. Then, there was more misleading and misdirection in Foose's response to Delegate Miller regarding Judge McCrone’s awarding of sanctions against a special education student’s mother for attempting to obtain a publicly-funded report. Foose declared it was the judge’s decision to do that. Well, yes, it was, BUT in RESPONSE to being ASKED TO DO IT. The Judge was ASKED by the School Board’s attorney to award the sanctions. The School Board’s attorney could not request sanctions without the Board's instruction or permission. One can say shame on the Judge, but do not dismiss the instigator. Foose, and the Board cannot punt this responsibility. Their aggressive stance against public information requests and appellants of non-compliance speaks volumes. It is the very reason they must be singled out for stronger enforcement.

Just today, I saw another example of HCPSS non-compliance to PIA’s in action. In a response to a request for emails from Foose, Wise, BOE, and Central office staff related to mold or Indoor Air Quality for a 2 week period, the HCPSS claimed it would take 76 hours of work and cost over $5,000 to provide the emails. This is transparency?

With regard to other arguments against the bills, the notion that the Board of Ed assigns areas, so there is no need for Councilmanic districts, is a weak argument. The reality is that assigned locations cannot be compared to being in your own neighborhood, nor can it be compared to allowing the voters to choose the assignments. Those who feel countywide elections give the voters more rights have it backwards.

It seems that the loudest opposition to district elections is made by those who perceive it as an obstacle to getting elected. It seems that the loudest opposition to stronger compliance with public information requests is made by those with something to hide, as the law already provides for not overburdening. If the school system didn’t hold themselves above this law, which we have seen time and again with court cases and sanctions on citizens, then there wouldn’t be the need to single out the school system on this topic. It’s been all about politics and control, and we deserve better in our school system.

One last thing. Certain people should take a look at the hearing video and watch themselves on tape, and learn a lesson in respect. You do yourself a disservice by arguing that you don’t deserve to be characterized as dismissive, controlling or bullying; then, acting in exactly that way.

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