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"Dysfunctional" Baltimore County School Board Told It Must Find Ways To Get Along

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BALTIMORE COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS
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The Baltimore County School Board was told Tuesday night by a consultant that it is dysfunctional and needs to find a way to work together for the sake of the county’s 110,000 students.

The board got a blow-by-blow account of a report that also finds that the school system suffers from low morale, poor communication, and a bloated central office.

The discord on the school board is long standing and well- chronicled. It was on display again Tuesday night in a dust up between board chairwoman Makeda Scott and the previous chair, Kathleen Causey. Both took turns interrupting each other as Scott was pushing for a vote on an issue and Causey said she wanted to make an inquiry, although she had used up all of her allotted time to speak.

“There was a very important point about the Built to Learn Act,” Causey said.

“That’s not an inquiry,” Scott responded.

“That’s an inquiry,” Causey shot back.

“We need to take a vote,” said Scott. “You’re out of time Ms. Causey.”

Later in the evening, the board heard from JoAnn Cox with Public Works LLC, the consultant that wrote the report on the school system.

“You have to agree to disagree and do it in a civil manner for the sake of the kids,” Cox told the board.

She praised the school board for being made up of diverse, talented members who are passionate about education. But said as a group, they are dysfunctional.

“I’d like to liken it to a major league team recruiting the finest players, only to come up with a losing season.”

Cox said in interviews conducted for the report, she was given a long list of reasons why there is so much discord, from having a partially elected school board, to racism, to lack of training. Board chair Scott said all board members need to take responsibility, saying their dysfunction leads to dysfunction throughout the school system.

“I think there is almost no amount of parliamentarian training that can train out things like disrespect and racism and things like that that you’ve mentioned in here that you’re seeing,” Scott said.

According to the report, research shows poor board behavior leads to lower student achievement because the board gets distracted from its core mission.

School board meetings often go on for hours. Tuesday night’s clocked in at five and a half hours, wrapping at midnight. Despite that, Cox said the board often does not take time to discuss students’ academic performance, which should be the bread and butter of any school board.

“All of these other functions, facilities, food services, financial management, they’re all to support school improvement.”

Several board members agreed that student achievement should be a regular item on the board’s agenda.

The report finds some members of the board are micromanaging School Superintendent Darryl Williams. They are overloading him and his staff with questions and comments, pulling them away from their jobs of running the school system. School Board member Moalie Jose agreed with that.

“We’re taking time and resources away from student services that staff members could be working on.”

Among other things, the report recommends the school board get training on how not to micromanage, adopt a civility policy, and attend team-building workshops.

The 759-page efficiency report recommends nearly 200 changes the school system should make in various areas.

The report says the structure of the school system’s central office is ineffective and inefficient. It proposes a reorganization and streamlining that would save nearly $40 million over five years.

The report makes recommendations on how the school system can improve low employee morale and slow down a high turnover rate. It also finds clear communication is lacking throughout the central office and schools.

With the report done, School Superintendent Darryl Williams said what lies ahead will be a time of discomfort for many.

“The manner that we go about doing the work with careful attention to the precision, transparency and compassion will help us move forward in rebuilding a culture of respect for all,” Williams said.

Williams said he will provide an update to the board in two weeks on how he plans on moving ahead with the consultant’s recommendations.

In other action Tuesday, the board approved building new replacement schools for Dulaney and Towson High Schools.

On a divided vote, the board rejected recommendations from two studies to do less expensive renovations. Supporters of the new schools say the buildings are too old to be renovated. Opponents countered that the additional money spent for new buildings would deprive other schools of needed improvements.

This is not a done deal. The county and state will need to sign off as well because they provide the funding. New high schools cost around $150 million.

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