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Seminar teaches role, laws of school board

November 29, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Wanted: People over the age of 18 with visions about how the next generation will survive and thrive in the 21st century. Tough hide a plus. Candidates must work long, late hours for less than minimum wage.

That's a summary of an advertisement the Maryland Association of Boards of Education uses to recruit people for the job of serving on a school board.

MABE Executive Director Carl Smith showed it to start off a meeting at Washington County Technical High School Monday night. In a two-hour seminar, he gave a crash course aimed at candidates.

Smith described the role school boards play and the laws that govern them. He also tried to destroy misconceptions about its duties. "A lot of people think the school board can do just whatever it wants to," he said.

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"The reality is, you can't." Being on a school board means not discussing issues publicly that could result in a hearing. That means casual conversation in the grocery store must be handled professionally, he said.

If a neighbor asks about a rumor, a board member should not discuss it. "You are the appellate body, which means you have to come to it without prejudice," Smith said.

"It's difficult. They're going to ask you what you think, and what are you going to say, 'I don't think?'" Smith recommended saying, "I can't discuss it with you," and explaining why.

He gave everyone a quiz about a board's role, using the answers to educate them. "Advocating for individual parent requests for student transfers" was not one of the tasks considered a board member's responsibility.

He reviewed state laws that dictate items such as school calendars, teacher qualifications and the collective bargaining process. Although the local board has a lot of flexibility, statutes and regulations cannot be contradicted.

One candidate ran on a platform of promising to remove his county from the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, but that's impossible, Smith said. He also emphasized that board members only have power together, not as individuals.

The shift from an industrial to a technological society is changing education and putting pressure on school boards, but it's an exciting time, Smith said.

"It's an awesome set of responsibilities you take on," he said. "But when you really think about it, it's a challenge worth taking on."

Next year, four seats on the Washington County Board of Education will be open. The filing deadline is Dec. 27. Other than School Board members, nine people attended the meeting. Only one of them, John W. Cohen, had filed before Monday.

Some said they only attended to inform themselves. "I'm just here as an observer," said Bonnie Parks, president of ESP Local No. 1, a union representing school workers. "It's important we have good representation," she said.

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