Donald Fry: Wrong timing for proposal to change Baltimore City school board

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By Donald C. Fry

Baltimore City’s legislative delegation is reviewing a bill proposed by six city delegates and a state senator that would change the city’s school board to a mostly-elected body. The board’s nine voting members are now jointly appointed by the governor and the city’s mayor.

Under the bill, HB 374/ SB 10, seven of 11 voting members on the city school board would be elected by city voters and two each would be appointed by the governor and the mayor. The bill, if enacted, would submit the proposed changes to city voters in a November 2010 referendum.

The concept of an elected school board is not unusual in Maryland, where 18 of the state’s 24 local school boards are entirely elected. It’s worth noting, however, that the three largest jurisdictions in the Baltimore region – Baltimore City and Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties – all have appointed school boards.

In any case, the timing for this particular proposal couldn’t be worse.

Under its existing appointed school board, Baltimore City schools are experiencing significant gains in achievement. For example in 2008-2009, 31 elementary and middle schools serving mostly low-income populations had more than 80 percent of students attain advanced or proficient scores on the Maryland School Assessment. The previous school year, the city’s school system had 22 such schools, and in 2006-07 it had just eight.

These and other scholastic improvements are a product of a team effort involving the hard work of students, teachers, and administrators under the leadership of the current school board and schools CEO Dr. Andres Alonso.

Last October the Baltimore City school board was honored for progressive leadership by the National School Boards Association's Council of Urban Boards of Education, which cited the system's academic progress and board efforts to strengthen parental and community involvement.

Significant gains made in the past two years by Baltimore City Public Schools are expected to continue. Baltimore is fortunate to have a school system CEO who is recognized throughout the country for the outstanding reform efforts and academic improvements that he has overseen in both New York City and now in Baltimore.

Dr. Alonso was hired by a non-elected school board and his selection has proven to be a turning point for Baltimore's public school system.

The ultimate measure of whether a school board is effectively serving the needs of its constituents lies in outcomes relating directly to education quality and student achievement. In a school system like Baltimore City's, which is in the midst of long-needed aggressive and comprehensive reform, the appropriate measure is whether significant progress is being achieved.

No one questions that, under the leadership of its existing appointed school board, the city's public school system is producing measurable, remarkable and accelerating gains in student achievement.

In government, it’s rarely prudent to fix something that isn’t broken.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.

Previous Center Maryland columns by Donald C. Fry:

Baltimore City isn’t alone in facing pension funding challenges

A government investment program that delivers

Proposed transportation fund raid -- a bad habit continues

Where's the outrage over crime?

Small business is where innovation lives

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Donald C. Fry has been the president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee (GBC), the central Maryland region's most prominent organization of business and civic leaders, since November 2002.

Under Don’s leadership, the GBC is recognized as a knowledgeable and highly credible business voice in the Baltimore region, Annapolis and Washington, D.C. on policy issues and competitive challenges facing Maryland. Its mission is to apply private-sector leadership to strengthening the business climate and quality of life in the region and state.

Fry served as GBC executive vice president from 1999 to 2002. From 1980 to 1999 Fry was engaged in a private law practice in Harford County. During this time he also served in the Maryland General Assembly. He is one of only a handful of legislators to have served on each of the major budget committees of the General Assembly.

Serving in the Senate of Maryland from 1997 to 1998, Fry was a member of the Budget and Taxation Committee. As a member of the House of Delegates from 1991 to 1997 Fry served on the Ways and Means Committee and on the Appropriations Committee.

Fry is a 1979 graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law. He earned a B.S. in political science from Frostburg State College.