Wednesday, May 4, 2011

My written comments to the School Board regarding its proposed rewrite of the CAC regulations

To Whom It May Concern:
Setting aside the question of what one might think about the substance of the Board’s proposed CAC regulations, they do have the advantage of honesty.  Under the previous regulations, the Board and Administration made a pretense, consistent with the formal written rules and nominal procedures, that CAC officers were independently elected, not appointed, and that the CACs could control their own agenda even if it conflicted with that of the Board and Administration.  The proposed regulations make very little pretense of continuing that fraud.
For a glimpse of the often hidden relationship between CAC leaders and the Administration/Board, see the two letters from the past and current Board presidents concerning the mandated Countywide CAC agenda for the current, 2010-2011, school year.  The first is from the former Board President to then Countywide CAC Chair Tom Frank.  The second is from the current Board President reaffirming the first letter and clarifying that the Countywide CAC would not be allowed to host any candidate forums, including a forum for the four school board members up for an approval vote on November 2, 2010. 
My commentary on related matters published in the Capital, “Can we strengthen the parents’ voice in education,” is available here.  My extensive comments to Countywide CAC members on rewriting the CAC regulations are available here.  My survey of Countywide CAC members on related matters is available here.  (If these links are stripped out by AACPS when it posts this comment, you can find them all
It should be understood by those involved in the revision of the CAC regulations that administrators, school boards, and PTAs have never been, to put it mildly, champions of a strong CAC system.  Maryland’s original state mandated CAC system in 1970 was set up uniquely for Anne Arundel County, and there is no record that it was supported by either the School Board or countywide PTA. 
Unfortunately, the original strong CAC system in Anne Arundel County was viewed as too successful as a means of giving parent stakeholders a voice in the school system.  Worcester County, also with an appointed school board at that time, copied Anne Arundel County in 1973. 
Then there was a push to create a statewide CAC system.  This was a big mistake, as it mobilized the Maryland School Boards Association and the PTAs against the proposed legislation.   In 1976, the General Assembly created a statewide CAC system but at the price of significantly watering down the original rules specifically written for Anne Arundel County.  For example, the original rules mandated a system of local CACs with a countywide CAC for Anne Arundel County.  The revised rules, which applied to all Maryland counties, cut out the vision of a multi-level CAC system.  Nevertheless, Anne Arundel’s CAC regulations, which were orginally written before the statewide revision, maintained the multi-level CAC system, which the Administration and Board now wants to gut.
Governor Marvin Mandel, the big champion of creating a strong CAC system in Maryland, wanted to call CACs “Parent Advisory Councils.”  He was defeated, however, as a result of the strong lobbying push on the legislature by the local school boards and PTAs.  One of the best strategies for killing the CACs with poison pills (sold as “friendly amendments”) has always been to give the CACs an ill-defined role overlapping with other stakeholder groups.  I am in favor of having current and former AACPS parents serve on CACs.  I see no advantage in having other stakeholder groups represented, each of which already has its own group to represent their interests.
The current public face of the attack on the CACs has come from current and former Countywide PTA leaders (most notably one who currently serves on the School Board).   Going back to the creation of the CAC system in the early 1970s, PTAs have argued that CACs are unnecessary.
The School Board currently grants PTAs the right both to lobby and raise funds.  It has withheld those rights from the CACs because it views the CACs as designed by the legislature as a checks & balances institution and therefore as a threat to its perogatives.  The PTA would retain this monopoly under the proposed CAC rules. 
As an aside, I would also like to note that PTAs do not represent all the students in Anne Arundel County.  Over the years, this is an assertion that I have heard by the PTA representative to the School Board Nominating Commission, as well as by legislators who created the School Board Nominating Commission.  It is also consistent with the School Board’s practice of letting the Countywide PTA president speak at every school board meeting but the Countywide CAC chair only every second meeting.  PTA members are also appointed to serve on key countywide committees as the parents’ representative (e.g., see Superintendent Maxwell’s column in the Capital this week).  But this claim, whether made implicitly or explicitly, is misleading.  In the Severna Park feeder system, for example,fewer than 50% of the students attend public schools with a PTA.  Both the high school and middle school, and at least one elementary school, have PTOs.  Given all the talk by the current and former countywide PTA leaders about how unrepresentative the CACs are and how representative the PTAs are, I call on the Countywide PTA leadership to publicly provide the detailed membership information that the Countywide CAC has been asked to provide.  There also needs to be an acknowledgement that Maryland’s Governor and Anne Arundel County’s delegation to the General Assembly originally created the CAC system based on their observations that PTAs, while serving a very valuable role within the public school system, were not well suited to represent parents as a stakeholder group.
AACPS administrators have reported to school board members that they have done a thorough investigation of CAC practices throughout the state.  This study should be publicly released.  Moreover, the study should clearly distinguish between school systems with appointed and genuinely elected school boards.  It seems to me that any data collected for appointed boards should be dismissed as irrelevant and that the focus of any data gathering effort should not be on doing the minimal amount required by Maryland statute but on explaining why the original vision of the CAC system is no longer appropriate for Anne Arundel County.   There also should be an acknowledgement and explanation of the revisions to the original CAC regulations over the last few decades that have gradually weakened the CACs.  With the decline of the School Board Nominating Convention and the rise of the School Board Nominating Commission ( for details), the need for a strong CAC system may be greater than ever in Anne Arundel County. 
--Jim Snider, Former Vice-Chair and Chair of the Countywide CAC, as well as amateur Countywide CAC historian (see CAC laws/regulations and Chair’s “Weekly” Letter to Members, dated January 4, 2011, for additional information)

No comments: