Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The public comments regarding the proposed Board of Education Policy to gut the Countywide CAC

On June 15, 2011, one day after the end of the school year, the Board of Education provided the second reading of its proposed policy and accompanying regulations to gut the Countywide Citizen Advisory Committee system. Attached below are links to the two proposed policies.

Policy KBA/501.01 - Citizen Advisory Committee

Regulation KBA-RA/AR501.01 - Citizens Advisory Committee

The submitted comments by parents, also as of June 15, 2011, are pasted below. According to Board policy, these comments are only publicly available for thirty days after a proposed public policy is posted. The link to the relevant Board of Education page is here.

Note that the Countywide PTA has become the major public voice opposing the continued existence of the Countywide CAC system as an independent, grassroots organization.

To Whom It May Concern:

I am the CAC representative from our school. I have read the draft of the proposed policy and regulation changes for the CAC.

I think it is important and valuable to keep the membership as it is now, in that it is volunteer-based and not selected by the Board of Education. This could create an appearance of conflict of interest which I imagine you do not wish to have and part of the strength that can build within CAC is having parents exhibiting leadership on their own intiative which will build our volunteer base throughout the county.

B. Holcomb
School Counselor
Point Pleasant Elementary School

As the chair of the CAC at Cape St. Claire Elementary School for the past two years, I respectfully submit to you that your proposed changes to the way the CAC's function within out school structure is not appropriate. CAC's are parent and community led committees. They are not to be led by the elected members of the BOE, nor should the BOE be responsible for selecting the members of the CAC. Please continue to allow the individual schools to have their own voices. If a sizeable CAC cannot be attained for each school, allow one representative to serve on a larger School Cluster CAC as a voice for their individual school. The CAC can be a very effective voice for change and discussion of important issues relating to our schools.

Thank you,

H. Kilpatrick
Cape St. Claire CAC Chair

Some comments on the proposed CAC policy:

1. There should be a way for parent and community groups to meet as a “cluster” to discuss cluster-wide issues. Therefore, in addition to a county-wide group, there should be cluster CAC’s.

Rationale: School staff meet as “vertical teams” to discuss educational issues – there should also be a means for the community to discuss feeder system (cluster) issues. This would insure continuity and communication throughout a feeder system - and demonstrate that parent and community input is valued at all school levels. It would also help parents and students with transitions to middle and high school. In addition, business partners on Business Advisory Boards would have input – and can support - all three educational levels (elementary, middle and high) and signature programs can be supported throughout a cluster.

2. Every school should have a means for parent and community input – but some schools may not have functioning parent groups. Therefore, there should be a provision that if a school does not have a parent group (PTA, PTO, etc) the principal will establish a CAC.

Rationale: This will insure that there is a means for parent and community input in ALL schools – including schools that may not have an existing parent group. The school-based CAC can eventually evolve into a PTA or PTO if appropriate.

3. The county-wide CAC should also include a representative from the Advanced Programs (GT) Advisory Committee, Student Government, and other county-wide advisory committees. Consideration should be given to also having a representative of the teacher’s union and the administrator’s union.

Rationale: The proposed policy states that SECAC and PI-AC will have a representative on the county-wide CAC. Other school system sponsored county-wide advisory groups should also be included.

4. The relationship between a school’s CAC and a school’s SIT team should be defined and SIT goals clearly communicated to the CAC.

Rationale: When parents and community members know the school’s goals, the community can provide support to reach the goals.

5. Consideration should be given to having CAC be a “hybrid” of both elected and appointed members.

Rationale: CAC should be representative of the diversity of our county and all parent groups should have a voice. Members elected from the “ranks” of CAC can provide a grassroots voice – and appointed individuals can insure diversity.

Respectfully submitted,
Lisa Shore (

Board Members:

As a concerned citizen and parent in this school system, I have concerns about the CAC. I am a current PIAC member and CAC member for 2 years until just recently when I resigned. There needs to be a CAC!!! It worked well for my school when I would attend the CAC meetings and report back to the principal and the PTO meetings. The representative should be nominated by the school whether it be by nominations from the parent body or the principal. THE BOARD SHOULD NOT NOMINATE the representatives. I understand the need for a working CAC. Each rep should have a say in the votes! My voice should not be ignored just because I'm and elementary rep and not middle school or high school. The current regime of the CAC is trying to make political moves I don't agree with. My hope is to rejoin when there is a working CAC in place. Please take my comments into consideration when revising the policy.

Laurie Dietrich
Richard Henry Lee Elementary
SIT Team R. H. Lee
PIAC Member
Former CAC Member
Concerned Mother

[Note: The author is the president of the Countywide PTA]

My concerns: That the process for parents and other interested parties be easy to access and as transparent as possible. My hope is that parents can volunteer to serve either through their principal and or the Office of school and family partnerships, and possibly through a link on the AACPS web page. I know on the other hand that in some areas it is rare to get volunteer participation, I hope a system can be developed that lets these under-served areas garner some representation. I am all for the 2 from each feeder area concept, in my opinion it will make it hard for one feeder systems concerns to overwhelm meetings and hinder the ability to get real work done. I am ok with a AACCPTA representative, PTA can bring some meeting skills and different perspective to the room. We do not however want this to hinder our ability to advocate on children's issues, because this is a core activity of PTA. We would be more comfortable not being able to serve as officers on the executive team but in an advisory role, as TAAAC, CRASC, and AEL do on our executive board. However with the other at large members, I anticipate that in a group of 27 individuals, there would be little reason to have one serve in a Chair, Vice Chair or Secretary role. I would also like to see a student representation on the CAC.

Please consider that volunteers can come from many places and make sure that participation is not limited but advertised for widely and though as many avenues as possible. The chosen participants should also be responsible for making sure their feeder schools are informed of activities as needed and should be encouraging participation from as many areas as possible.

Ray Leone

[Note: The author is the former president of the Countywide PTA]

Dear Board Members,

I am so glad you are finally updating the CAC Policy. For years the CAC as it is now has not be working for the parents and citizens of this county. One of the responsibilities for both the PTA and CAC was to have representatives on committees. I know the PTA had representatives but many times there wasn’t any representatives from CAC on these committees. I support the changes that the Board is making to this policy because the CAC has been dysfunctional for some time and not working the way it was intended. At the first reading of the policy, there was no representative from the current CAC to speak on the policy. You would think that the current CAC chair would have been there to express their opinion of the updating of the policy. I fully support the policy changes for CAC.


Anita Owens

I support the changes to the Board of Education's policy on the CAC. I would suggest that the regulations include in the membership two at-large members who do not have an affiliation with a particular school or cluster. This would allow for input from such groups as the chambers of commerce or higher education interests, which would benefit our school system by increasing community involvement. I firmly support the inclusion of representation from the County Council of PTAs and the SECAC.

The cluster design will help to build stronger relationships between the elementary, middle and high schools in each region, and hopefully we will see much greater effectiveness in communication between the CAC, the Board, and all of the schools.

Laura Carr
South River High School

To Board Policy makers,

After careful review of the changes being proposed for an appointed CaC committee to be formed instead of just parents from the area schools, I am in complete agreement with this change. After attending several CAC meeting I have become very aware of the inconsistency of any school sending the same members and the attendance to CAC meetings has dropped. At least if there were assigned members to the CAC board the good work and community outreach would be very consistent throughout all of Anne Arundel County Public Schools.

Please consider changing the CAC policy KBA/501.01 to have districts appoint a CAC executive member to represent a cluster of schools at each level.


Laura Schmidt

PICA Board member , BAB Board Member of Northeast High School. And incoming PTSO Vice president Of Old Mill Middle North.

I participated in the CAC program for three years. I feel that it is an effective organization the way it is now. Appointed representatives from the board would weaken the effect of the CAC and install surrogates of the board. My understanding of the purpose of the council is to interject commnets a views of the general public.

Donald E. Winkler


I was recently informed of your possible action to disband the current CAC organization/structure and replace it with who you want representing the school.

I must state that not only is this wrong but it has overtones of a dictatorship. I do not understand how you will appoint representatives for school unless they are parents of students within the schools they are appointed for. With that you would need to open your application process to the possibility of more than 10,000 applicants which you would not have the time nor would you take the time to screen all of those nor could you complete that in a time frame that would allow for a proper transition in to the position. People in positions like CAC, PTA and Athletic Boosters volunteer because they care about their children's education and want to assist in making situations better in the schools where their children attend. To appoint an "outsider" to the school is ridiculous.

EX= let's say you appoint someone who lives Annapolis to North County HS would you appoint someone who lives in North County to Severna Park, Arundel, Chesapeake? I think not. Those schools, by the way I believe they have the most money per capita and have the most influence in AA county, would not stand for that and they would somehow get there way and one of their own would wind up in the CAC for their school.

Maybe I am wrong and you already have this worked out and the AACPS will be a great place after this next attempt by the school board to interfere. I wish I could believe that but from my personal experiences with the board regarding the revision of the IB program just 3 years ago, I do not believe you have thought this through nor do I believe appointing a person you want to be the CAC representative for a particular school will work.

I am not hard to contact if you would like to reply as I do not hide behind emails

Larry Marconi
410-979-7890- mobile phone

I disagree with appointments as many of the people (including myself) who want to be active, educated and productive for the children are NOT into politics, don’t sit on different boards around the county or hold high power jobs. They are local parents and citizens that are looking out for the children with no political agenda, need to be politically correct or make decisions for personal future gain. We are the people who simply want to help and do right by the kids.

I believe that creating an appointed group would eliminate the availability of a resource to parents and citizens who feel disconnected to the political powers of the school board and county reps. CAC should be that link from the local level to the county level. Let each school send 1 representative if they so choose. It must be the people at the local levels that represent for the locals.

Warm Regards,

Kerry A. Petz
Director of Marketing

Understand the desire to streamline the Citizens Advisory Committee at a county level, overall I think the process needs to be streamlined to some degree - but I am concerned about several items as it relates to the new policy/regulation approach for the CAC as proposed. Here are some comments that I believe are shared on a wider scale within the school community.

Local CAC representation - If we lose the concept of a local CAC representation (requirement) many local school administrators will not participate and/or even allow a local CAC process. The process as the original policy outlined definitely needs to be simplified - so perhaps we should only require/request one representative from each school - to at a minimum participate at a cluster level to select the cluster representatives. This representative can be selected by existing local parent groups and/or appointed by the school principal. If an active school or cluster wants to expand on that approach by having a full blown local CAC, they can but this will at least provide a communication chain to and from the Countywide group back to the Cluster and individual schools.

Cluster representation - I support the concept of cluster representation for the official county wide CAC mgmt board (whatever we want to call it) but we should want this process to encourage much wider scale participation in meetings, speakers, discussion etc. The representation team will have the voting rights and mgmt responsibilities but it should be an open process, open to wide scale community participation. I think the concept of one Upper school and lower school representative on this board is a good approach, but I question the need for representatives from some of the other already existing advisory groups (PIAC, Special Ed CAC) since they already have an existing process in place for interacting with the BOE, so should just be cluster reps for this team.

CAC reps will be appointed by the BOE - In a county where we having a non-elected school board, appointed by the Governor (not local representatives), recommended by an appointed commission - the CAC is one of the few entities left where parental involvement in the process is from the ctizens/community level forward. We should include a process that allows for local election of representatives from each cluster, in the case where public participation is not adequate to a level to support a local election then the BOE would appoint members through an application process. The local rep and cluster elections would stimulate initial participation at the cluster level that will be an improvement even if they just meet once a year and will likely lead to more cluster level participation in clusters currently not participating in this process.

BRAD Myers
Current Parent/Alumni/Concerned Citizen

Hello Policy Committee,

My name is Betsy Hartge. I was a school teacher for 40 years before becoming a realtor, but my heart and soul have always been those of a teacher.

Education has been a major part of my life and I have extensive background. Over the years I organized peer mediation (student to student) groups within schools, taught all the grades and subjects from grade 1 through 8, worked as a student government liaison for the SGA, wrote curriculum for gifted and talented students, was a special ed consultant, resource teacher, and self-contained teacher, and many other items too many to mention.

Recently I met Joanne Conti and was introduced to the CAC with hopes of giving back to education after such a rewarding career.

I now understand that there are decisions being made to disband it in its present form.

I am speaking in favor of continuing with the present structure. Too often in education we don’t listen to the views of others outside of our field, but I have learned that, even when we do not like what they are staying, we can still learn from the discussion. Now more than ever we need to think critically and creatively to get the job of educating our youth done the best we can. We need to listen to the thoughts of others both inside and outside of the world of education and CAC needs to help with that task.

I will be at the Board Meeting in support of the CAC and hope you will consider altering your decision.

Betsy Hartge
Cell 4433701277

AACPS Board of Education,

Why would you change the current Citizens Advisory Committee in such a way that would allow you to appoint the CAC members? The recent survey of parents of AACPS students showed that they would prefer to elect the Board of Education members, so why do you think that the same people would approve of you dismantling a committee whose job is to represent their concerns. If you alter the CAC in any way that would allow board members, or any other appointed AACPS affiliated person or office, to appoint CAC members you will reenforce exactly why AACPS Board of Ed members must be elected in the future! I am horrified that the board would even have the power to do something like that. This is exactly what is wrong with AACPS and our country! You know, Nazi party members were elected until Hitler dissolved and reconstructed it in such a way that would permit him to appoint members. That didn't work too well either.

Very disappointedly,

J. Allen

As a school employee for 32 years, six as a teacher and 26 as a high school Guidance Counselor, I have been a member of our CAC for years. The CAC as a community organization is invaluable in fostering change and supporting our schools. As it is comprised of volunteers who are interested in better education for our children, and not comprised of political appointees as is our board of education, it can be effective. Our citizens have a right to advocate for our children and our schools because they care, not because they want power. They need to be heard!!!!!!!

Nancy Baker

BOE members,

I am sincerely worried about the latest proposal to alter the CAC as it is today. The CAC needs to maintain its grassroots organization - members should not be appointed by you. Any attempts to alter the way it is run now in my opinion is a breach of fundamental and constitutional rights. I sincerely hope you re-consider your plans and let the voice of parents, teachers, schools remain in our hands.

Thank you,

Monica Resa

I was just informed that you are trying to cut the CAC. I am very upset about this. The CAC helps parents get thier voices heard. There has been many times when you are not able to go to a teacher or administrative support because well lets face it you get pushed aside or pleased for the moment. I ask you let this be a public vote don't take it upon yourself to cut the CAC out. Thank You, Crystal Brown

Please do not make any changes to the way the CAC is set up at this time. Please do NOT have this committee set up with appointments from the board. We need "real" people expressing our "real" concerns and this is the only place to do this at this time.

Thank you,

Teresa Tapp

How can the Board of Education realistically and ethically appoint their own advisory committee? If they are supposed to keep the Board in check, this relationship seems like it would inevitably become incestuous.

I will offer other opinions as I can word them properly so as not to offend.

Sophia Marx

The proposed policy and regulation do not reflect input from the CACs. Furthermore, the proposed policy and regulation are contrary to the results of the survey conducted by the Board earlier this year - the stated purpose of which was to obtain input from the CACs.

The results of the survey (provided by over 100 CACs, with approximately 4 schools missing) overwhelmingly conveyed that the role performed by the CACs cannot be fulfilled by any other parent/citizen body (including PTAs, PIAC, etc) and that the Boardshould not: 1) eliminate the local school CACs; 2) eliminate the cluster CACs; or 3) create a County-wide CAC that consists of members appointed by the Board or Superintendant.

In my experience working with the CAC on all levels, I have seen the CACs work effectively to assist in accomplishing many improvements in our schools (despite times of outspoken disagreements or perhaps because the CACs offer a forum for expressing dissension).

Although Board Member Ritchie has commented publicly that the CACs have not been effective since the 1970s, my time spent with the CACs began circa 2000 and I count myself fortunate to be able to report that in Severna Park and on the County-wide level, I have witnessed the CACs effectively advocate for, and advise and educate parents, students, and citizens and the Board on a variety of school issues. While some might shrug this experience off with a comment along the lines of “that’s Severna Park” - doing so would only shortchange the efforts of many people around the County who have striven for successful CACs. An example to all are the ladies of the Freetown Elementary CAC, and parents from the Annapolis feeder system CACs, who spoke at the last County-wide CAC meeting about how hard they have fought to make their CACs vital organizations.

Over the last decade, I have observed the CACs address such topics as school construction, avoidance of or steps towards school redistricting, Board sponsored task forces, student health concerns (including bullying, last day of school hazing, procedures for flu outbreaks, better diets/cafeteria food services, etc.), funding, classroom walls, safety measures, schedules, curriculum (e.g. – where has all the science gone), after school programs, treatment of our teachers and staff, recess time, parking lots, special ed. and gifted programs, grading systems, early release for seniors (now K-11 education), classes sizes, and other facility issues like mold, the availability of technology and media resource, sidewalks – to name a few that come to mind immediately.

Some Board members have made sincere inquiries regarding the impact of the local school CACs. While not all schools have CACs, the ones that are operational often have been the ones that have identified many of the concerns mentioned above, either individually or in conjunction with one or more other schools, inside and outside a cluster. A plan was then formulated on the local level as to how to take the concern forward to a Principal, Cluster, the County-wide CAC, or at times directly to the Board. Action has been taken via CAC resolutions (motioned and approved under the Roberts rules), CAC presentations and reports to the Board, and/or member testimony to the Board or other governmental bodies. Classroom walls in open schools is a specific example of an issue that moved both horizontally and vertically through the CAC, to the Board, and eventually out to the County for funding support that has resulted in a number of schools being fitted with walls.

Strengthening communications up and down the CAC/Board structure was the primary focus of the comments received from the Board’s survey. In my mind, therefore, the goal of the Board should be to figure out how to enfranchise, rather than disenfranchise, members of our CAC community on the issues related to our schools and education. Presently the County-wide CAC has put together a draft alternative policy and regulation that will both streamline the organization and improve communications and participation. To adequately consider the alternative policy and regulation expected to come out of the CAC, the pending policy and regulation should go back to the Board’s Policy Committee, which in turn should invite the participation of the CAC in rewriting the policy and regulation.

Sincerely, Julie Sweeney, SPHS CAC Chair

I am not an activist, so please take my comment regarding proposed changes to the Citizen Advisory Committee structure and operation in the positive spirit intended.

The CAC, as a state-mandated group, has the clear mission of representing the interests and concerns of parents and citizens -- the actual users of our educational system. It was established as an adviser to the Board of Education, to be a voice for the grass roots participants in the educational system. If actions being considered by the Board to diminish the external perspective of this important function -- by Board-appointing members, no less! -- then a great disservice will have been done to your constituency.

While I totally understand that subordinating, and effectively neutering, the customer focus of the CAC would perhaps make your work in some sense easier within the larger 'school process' as practiced by the Board, it would come at the cost of removing a necessary voice that is a very important contributor to that larger process. The CAC was put in place over 30 years ago for that very purpose. Please don't tamper with the established working order of things! The current citizen representatives speak for the grass roots people of this county in a way that the Board (and its proxies) simply cannot. They are an elected part of the system. Please do not eviscerate it and in doing so disable a valuable element of the educational structure of the county.

Thank you,
Glenn Whaley

Dear Sir/Ms.:

Just wondering how impartial an appointed panel would be if it is to replace a basically grassroots organization i.e.. the CAC. Though I do not doubt the integrity of the to-be-appointed persons, I think there would be more possibilities of conflict of interest.

Please record my opinion of the proposed eradication of the CAC organization as opposed.

Donna Larkin

I disagree with changing the CAC structure. The structure, rules, regulations, etc. should remain the same as they are now.

CAC should not be appointed by the board. The current cluster system allows a fair and equal voice to all AACO citizens.

Thank you,


Southern High School, CAC

In my best Joe Pesci voice..okay okay okay.yous mean to tell me that the powers rangers (aka known as school board) wants to totally dismantle the CAC as it is. Tear up the rules and regulations and hand pick a group of their own chosen so the school board can control their minds. That individual schools will no longer have a CAC and there will no longer be meetings for concerned citizens to have input for comments and concerns. Get outa here!!!!

I commend the initiative to examine existing CAC policy in hopes of creating a new operational template that will serve the purpose of encouraging input from the community on issues of concern. A few suggestions:

* Student representation does not appear to be included in the proposed model. Why would the CAC not want to include this key stakeholder group? I would propose that each cluster appoint a representative from their High School SGA.

* Clusters should select one representative from interested applicants; the Board should appoint one representative from interested applicants in each cluster.

* Clusters should be required to hold open meetings prior to quarterly CAC meetings to allow local input by stakeholders. This would allow representatives to be apprised of issues of concern in their cluster, and provide an opportunity for dialogue among local community members.

It would be great if the policy committee would take all the feedback given and revise the draft policy to reflect those concerns, then repost for additional feedback. Because this is a major overhaul to an existing policy, it may take several iterations to achieve the desired result.

Regina Cornelius, Parent
Chesapeake High School
Former CAC Chair

To Whom It May Concern:

I strongly oppose a Board of Education/Superintendent appointed CAC. Representatives should be nominated by the school parent body, if that is not possible then representatives should be appointed by the principal. The Board of Education should not appoint CAC representatives.

I am a member of my local elementary school CAC, middle school CAC and have attended high school CAC meetings. While I do not attend the county wide CAC meeting I appreciate that I have two way communication with the executive CAC board. My representatives listen to what I have to say and inform me of what is being said at the county level. I am comforted knowing that if/when I have an issue there is a CAC parent/community member at my school that I can contact to get the answer/help. I feel a part of the process because I had a hand in electing my school’s representation. It goes against the fundamental democratic principles our country was founded on, by the people for the people.


Kathie Hamlett
Concerned parent/CAC member

Dear School Board Members,

I am writing to express concern about the restructuring of the CAC. I believe the local clusters should be able to appoint/elect their CAC representatives rather than having them be appointed by the Board. It seems to be antithetical to the nature of the CAC to take that power away from the CITIZENS in the individual schools or clusters and is just another way to make the Board appear one step removed from the needs and concerns of those who are living and working in the school communities.

Sincerely, Melissa Robertson

West River, MD

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)

I am writing to encourage the Anne Arundel County School Board NOT to make the proposed changes to the Citizens Advisory Committee. I understand the need for changes to ensure engagement throughout the County, but think that we should work with the system we have and make improvements rather than completely overhaul it.

1) Our existing system allows for democratically elected members of the CAC. This is a critical opportunity for all community members to express their voices. Accountability to constituents is a critical element of representative democracy and provides the adequate balance to our current appointed school board. It allows anyone to enter the forum at any time and participate without having some prior connection to the existing system.

2) Do not eliminate school-CAC representatives. By representing each of our schools, it allows for every school to have an equal voice chosen BY and FOR the people they represent. While the cluster level is helpful to prioritize and combine voices, a high-school based cluster will never hear the voice of elementary schools.

3) Some of our existing school and cluster CACs continue to function well. I attend an elementary school that has a 3-member CAC and participates in monthly cluster CAC meetings with other schools’ CAC members. This new system cuts the current (and newly elected) CAC members (our Chair, Vice-Chair, and Secretary) off from the system entirely! We’ve just completed elections and have 3 very enthusiastic CAC members who are shocked to find they aren’t welcome by the Board’s new proposal!

4) If the Board is concerned that some school and cluster CACs are weak and positions go unfilled, perhaps they could present a hybrid option. For schools who can fill their CACs, they should be allowed to do so. These individuals are democratically elected and provide regular feedback to PTAs, communities, and schools, alike. They want to volunteer to serve their communities. For schools or clusters who can’t fill their CAC positions, perhaps the Board could appoint members to serve on their CACs. That way everyone who wants to participate can do so and the Board can ensure that everyone is represented, not just those schools who have an abundance of volunteers.

5) The new CAC leadership (only in their positions for a few months) have worked HARD to establish regular procedures that adhere to the bylaws and have sought input from the Board as to adjustments that can be made to accommodate the Boards’ concerns while allowing the organization to continue. They are off to a strong start and should be given an opportunity to get the organization functioning well before the Board decides to overhaul and destroy the hard work they’ve put in. They’ve offered a comprehensive survey to parents to solicit County-wide feedback, they’re responsive to the Board’s concerns and criticism. They are also not associated with the prior CAC, so are off to a fresh start.

The Board and AACPS should have nothing to fear from citizen input. Will some citizens be more pushy than others? Of course, but those members of the community who volunteer to help make improvements to our schools should not be turned away. Our schools face an unprecedented financial challenge at a time of all time high enrollment numbers. All volunteers should be encouraged. It takes a village – and that’s just what the CAC is, it is Anne Arundel County citizens only way of entering a dialogue with our school system to effect change. I fear that, while the intentions of the proposal are noble in terms of creating equal voice for all constituents across the County, the design of appointed citizen advisors could lead to political cronyism.

Please allow concerned citizens to remain engaged in our schools and their management, please don’t end the current elected, school-based Citizens Advisory Committee of Anne Arundel County Public Schools.


Jessica Farrar
Jones Elementary School

To whom it may concern,

The CAC is very important to the parents and students and should be ensured of an existence and not hampered in any way by the Board of Education. The Board of Education should NOT be the body that appoints the CAC representatives. That should be left up to the schools and clusters. This will ensure more student's families are having their opinions heard in any issues the Board will be dealing with. Doesn't the Board of Education WANT to be transparent and have as much involvement from it's student's families???? Or do they want to appear "set apart" and "above" the people they are serving????

Thank you for your consideration,

Laura Miller
concerned parent

I'm writing to voice my concerns of the proposed changes to CAC policy. As a member of the school based CAC for many years, I've heard the concerns of the parents. I've also experienced the differences that school based CACs were successful with, and those that were not. Nevertheless, it remains, without a local voice, from those who experience it, the CAC loses its effectiveness as an advisory committee, and just becomes another way for the Board to meet its agenda. I, wholeheartedly, disagree with the proposed changes as they have been presented to me.

To the members of the Anne Arundel County Board of Education,

This is a brief message from a concerned parent about the changes proposed to the Citizen Advisory Committee. I understand that the Board is considering doing away with the representative structure of that committee and instead plan to appoint members of the CAC. The issues that this committee plans to tackle, as suggested by the recent survey and report, are of vital importance to me and my children. In fact, I plan to begin regularly attending these meetings, hopefully representing Broadneck Elementary School where my daughter will attend as a fourth grader and my son as a kindergartner this fall.

I believe that the CAC will serve the community best by better advertising the issues it will address and its role in our educational system and by being made up of representatives chosen by each school. Local citizens who are directly involved in each school bring a different and valuable point of view to the issues. A CAC of local representatives also gives a voice to those with a direct interest in the county's school system. I believe that this was the intent behind the creation of the committee. I do not believe that individuals appointed by the Board can allow for this truly different and local perspective and that under such a system the CAC runs the risk of becoming a redundant arm of the Board. I hope that you will reconsider restructuring the CAC.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Gwen Davis
Arnold, Maryland

As a former member of the CAC (2000-2003) It saddens me to see that the BOE wants to eliminate a CAC representative for each school. This reminds me of just one more thing that is being taken away .. just like trying to eliminate bargaining with the unions. It seems we are in a constant state of 'giving up things' nowadays. So instead of trying to 'fix' problems....just get rid of it and start over.

You want parents to take a more active role in their students education, yet you are pulling the rug out from under them. It is my understanding that the CAC officers are trying desperately to keep things together. Instead of scrapping the CAC as we know it, why can't you 'help' in making them a stronger organization?

Bonnie Gollup

Dear Anne Arundel County Board of Education,

I have learned of the proposed changes to the CAC regulations that eliminate the representative system in which CACs are formed at the school and cluster level, and replaces it by a Board of Education appointed CAC.

I would like to voice my disagreement with this proposed regulation as it undercuts the input from concerned citizens and parents that is crucial in improving our school system.

I urge you not to enact this policy.


Victor Urrutia

Dear Dr. Maxwell and Members of the Board:

I am deeply concerned,( if my understanding is correct), about your intent or proposal to eliminate school based and cluster CAC groups. If this is correct, it is my sincere desire to persuade you to do otherwise;

1. The school based CAC is not only active in their community, but also in their school. They hear, and know first hand, concerns of their school's parents, students and school staff, and see, daily, the conditions under which their school is expected to effectively operate.

2 Since the local PTA and the school based CAC are separate intities who function under different guideline and regulations, neither can legally render the services of the other (without very creative, determined leaders)

3. Feeder school Cluster CACs have a better opportunity to collaborate with elementary schools to better coordinate the continuity of all concerns which may be indicative to their schools and communities, and to ensure a smoother transition from elementary school, to middle school, to high school.

By selecting County-wide CAC representatives who know little to nothing, steriotypes and or folktales about communities and schools that make up our school system, would be a grave mistake and would render a disservice to the capable volunteers who are ready and willing to serve .

Please to not eliminate the School Based and Cluster CAC .

Lillie Caldwell

Members of the Board:

One of the things that surprised me upon moving to AACo was an unelected school board. Thankfully, we had the CACs, a local, school-based, active organization that has kept me informed. I have a student at an elementary, middle and a high school, and rely on the CAC members to tell us "what's going on".

I read the proposed new policy and the regulation. Truthfully, all I really had to read with the red line through the following phrases in the Regulation, Section C, Paragraphs 1-5. There is just no replacement language anywhere for local school engagement and involvement, and there is no replacement for the local CACs.

Maybe there are schools with ineffective CACs. Why not invest in making them better, learning lessons from those that are?

Thank you,

Ben Regalado

[Note: The author is the current secretary of the Countywide PTA as well as secretary to an AACPS principal]

I am an actively involved parent and I know firsthand how difficult it is to get parents to attend meetings at the school. In most cases unless there is a major issue most parents in my area are not going to attend another meeting.

After reviewing the current policy and comparing it to the proposed changes I can see how this would be a great benefit for the county as a whole. The structure would allow for FAIR representation from around the county, anyone is eligible to nominate themselves and in my opinion may open it up to more people being involved. I like that a representative from elementary and secondary would be from each cluster bringing the diverse opinions and views from all areas of our school system.

One change that I think would be beneficial is the addition of at least 2 at large members that do not have direct ties to a school, this would provide the much needed voice of the community as a whole and an added perspective that we don’t always have. The way that the current policy is written does not really encourage involvement from this arena .

Upon reading some of the remarks on the website I am disappointed that people think the CAC is a grassroots organization, it is not. It is an arm of the board is used to advise the board on matters of concern - not only to the board but also at the school level that have a county wide impact. The CAC is not intended to advocate, there are other organizations that will advocate on behalf of our children. I see nothing in the proposed draft that prevents a local school from having a CAC, if they are fortunate enough to have parents who want to do this. The change in the structure of the CAC also does not prevent any citizen from coming before the board to advocate for their child or school, it will hopefully increase the knowledge of issues around the county, which will in turn make people want to come and be an advocate.

Thank you and I once again support the proposed restructuring of the countywide CAC.

Dawn Jung

On our last PTA meeting Germantown Elementary PTA voted to supportstrong grassroots organization for CAC and not appointed members by the Board of Education.

Ingrid Antonelli
Germantown Elementary, Annapolis PTA Wellness

[Note: The author is the former president of the Countywide PTA]

Good Afternoon Board members,

I have read many of the comments on the updating of the CAC policy by the Board and I am concerned that there are some misunderstandings regarding the current policy, for instance the comments from Mr. Marconi seem to imply that the BOE would choose a representative to serve for another school, that is not what is being proposed at all. The proposed regulations for the CAC would ensure that every feeder system would have 2 representative, as it stands now a few people from one feeder system can make decisions for the entire CAC. First, the CAC is an advisory council for the Board of Education and is not independent organization like PTA or PTO. Second, if everyone would just read the current policy, it clearly says the CAC is the arm of the board. CAC stands for Citizen Advisory Council which advises the board of education on issues that have come to their attention and need input from the Advisory group. This is not a parent group like PTA or PTO which are independent groups and all school have one of these groups. In the current policy and regulations for the CAC the principal is the person responsible for organizing the CAC, with this proposed policy it makes it more open anyone can apply from the school and feeder system. The current policy and regulations also state that there has to be a minimum of 6 people on the local CAC, how many current CAC's have at least 6 members?

It has always been hard to get parents to step up to be on the CAC because they are pulled in so many directions and do not know what the CAC does for the school system. What action has the CAC taken recently, I have heard members refer to the CAC as a grassroots organization, it isn't they are an advisory council to the board of education.


Anita Owens

Anita V Owens

To the Board:

I vehemently disagree with your proposal to implement new policies and regulations that would eliminate all school and cluster CACs and proceed with Board appointment of 26 members to an Executive Committee. Such a move would stifle the CAC's effectiveness as a grassroots organization and basically defeat its purpose, which is to advise the Board on issues of concern to parents and citizens in general. There can be no assurance of unbiased representation if members are appointed by those they are charged with advising. For this reason, I believe the Board's proposal is inappropriate and unreasonable.

Although I acknowledge the need for revision of current CAC reguations, I ask the Board of Education to drop it's proposal to radically restructure the CAC and thereby effectively strip the organization of any meaningful citizen representation.\


Lara Boeck
Germantown Elementary CAC representative

Board Members,

I am writing to respectfully ask that you reconsider restructuring the Local/Cluster/CWCAC. The CAC is a grassroots organization composed of parents and citizens with no political aspiration and only the welfare of our children at heart. I have attended CWCAC meeting for 5 years and always leave with new information and resources for my school. I am OPPOSED to the BOARD NOMINATING representatives, you NEED to hear our voices and ideas, aren't we on the same team?

Best Regards,

Lindy Marks
Concerned Parent

Board of Education,

I am a concerned parent of four children (ranging in ages from 4 months to 12 years), an active member of my children's school, the outgoing VP of our Elementary schools PTA, and the CAC representative for Marley Elementary School. I have read through the Board of Educations propsal to alter the eay the CAC is to be run in the upcoming years. I have also attended the Countywide CAC sessions and am concerned about the way the Board of Education proposes a change to the structure of the CAC.

The Citizen Advisory Committee is a state-mandated group whose mission is to represent the interests and concerns of parents and citizens as an advisor to the Board of Education. As proposed (link below), the drafted policy does not identify the need for local and cluster CACs. I recognize from the CAC meetings that this is part of the Board's efforts to gut the CAC as an effective grassroots organization and the Board's desire to appoint the 26 members that would constitute the CAC.

This effort to silence the voice of the citizens of Anne Arundel County, the CAC, and opposition to the Board is one of, if not the primary, cause for last years CAC representatives to step down publicly.

I recognize that not all communities or school systems have an active CAC board, but those that do are extremely active and the nearly 2,000 people who responded to the most recent CAC survey clearly outlines the reach of the CAC. Electing to have a CAC w/in the school system should be the option of the school and cluster community. Election of CAC representation, decided by active CAC members and not the Board of Education. The policy must stipulate these provisions.

The Board has identified what limits there are to the CAC (link and excerpt below). If the County's voices continue to be ignored by the Board, I can foresee the opportunity for those disbanded voices to rally together and announce their concerns to the Board. As citizens not tied to the CAC, there would be no restriction to our lobbying, fund raising, or otherwise challenging the Board by all legal means necessary.

Please take these concerns to heart and hear the voices of the CAC to better our schools and the education of our future - our children.

William Matthews

The Citizen Advisory Committee is a state-mandated group whose mission is to represent the interests and concerns of parents and citizens as an advisor to the Board of Education. While there have been some recent challenges, the CAC has been effectively fulfilling this mission for almost four decades through CAC groups organized at the school, high school feeder system, and countywide level.\

Since Carol Kissal and I were elected this February, we have been working hard to rebuild the CAC into an effective grassroots organization focused on the biggest concerns of Anne Arundel County citizens. Over 4,000 citizens responded to our March survey about the improvements they wanted to see in AAC public schools, giving us excellent data with which to choose the topics the CAC will focus on next year. Additionally, during these three months, more than 150 new people have expressed interest in getting involved with the CAC. We are well on our way to building a CAC that will be a real asset to you as we work together to strengthen our public schools.

The policy and regulation being proposed will destroy the CAC as an effective grassroots organization. Eliminating all school and cluster CACs will gut the CAC by taking away our ability to communicate with involved parents at each school. And having the Board of Education appoint the members of the CAC will be disastrous to the quasi-independence required for us to fulfill our mission. To be effective advocates for parents and citizens to the Board, our first allegiance must be to them.

In order to improve our public schools, concerned citizens need an effective way to advocate for change. We ask you to reconsider these ill-advised proposals and work with us to develop new policies and regulations that strengthen, not destroy, the CAC.

Joanna Conti, Chair
Countywide CAC

To Whom It May Concern:

As parents of children at three different schools in Anne Arundel County, we have seen many positive changes that CAC has worked towards over the years that our children have attended. We believe that is important for the board to hear from the parents at the schools, NOT appointed representatives. The CAC has always been available for concerned parents who want to take a more active role in inspiring change for our schools. To appoint these representatives removes the inside voice of the parents and students in the Arundel school system.

We have personally been involved in changes that were a result of the CAC at the elementary school level, and have had regular updates from our CAC representative at the High School level. They inform us from a perspective that we can identify with.

IF changes need to be made to the CAC, the one thing that should NOT be considered is appointing the representatives! As several others have commented, the survey that was just recently given to parents proved we want elected Board members. Why would that be any different when considering the CAC

Thank you for considering our concerns,

Beth and Rob Sharo

While I'm listening to a ton of testimony...

I would like to comment about the proposed CAC changes - please don't!

I just learned about the CAC a few months ago. At Hillsmere, I've got a group of parents that are active in the school, the PTA and want to take on another active role in the our CAC. I'm a fairly new parent, with my oldest just in 1st grade. I am learning all about the different programs, groups and all the rest in the school system. And this "de-tracking" thing they are talking about...who knew? Not me.

With some work, well a lot of work, the CAC could be not only an outlet to encourage parent involvement but give parents the direction as to how to find what is real and how to effect change without crying wolf with each problem.

Mrs. Ritchie -you stated this spring that there were only 33 real comments about the budget to the BOE (which I've used as a "contact your representative" banner with my parents thank you)...what if each school CAC could help bring attention to this major event . Or help disseminate more accurate information about issues directly to parents. Such as in the last CAC meeting, Solom Webb & Teresa Tudor were able to point out programs and staff that had information about the topic that came up. Those CAC members can then go and advise local parents that those programs do exist.

Please hold off on any changes to the structure. Please give Joanna Conti a chance.

Thank you,
Angelic Carroll

I think we must hear from our many local CACs. At the school level only, will the CACs reflect the citizenry. Anne Arundel County is huge and diverse. One standing CAC can’t possibly reflect the specific issues impacting our citizens throughout the county. Let the democratic process work!

Gretchen Ostrom
School Counselor
Crofton Meadows

[Note: The author is the president of the Countywide PTA]

As an Amateur historian of PTA and CAC in this county, my county history today will only go back 10 years, however I am a lifelong resident and product of the South River Feeder system as it was being built. Be clear though, PTA is an organization that draws its roots and advocacy background from 117 years of history, and cut its teeth on things like polio and child labor. In this county where I count my parental involvement in years amounting to longer than a decade, I have seen both entities grow and shrink. I found the CAC model so compelling that I was the CAC chair at 3 schools; Edgewater ES (4 years), Central Middle (2 years)and South River HS (2 years), all the while in PTA leadership positions. With the exception of the last year and a half I have attended most if not all of the CWCAC Meetings since Sam Georgiou’s second term. I was asked to step into the void filled by Tom Frank, and declined due to my current role as PTA president at the County Level. Representing 13,300 members is a time consuming endeavor. I have not had the time in the past year to attend CAC meetings except one or two local South River ones, Central Middle no longer has a CAC. Anne Arundel County currently has 87 PTA Locals and 1 community PTA We hold no animosity toward CAC or PTO’s (as long as they represent themselves as who they are).

During those 10 years of wearing both hats the bigger CAC meetings that I attended had an issue at the core that stakeholders from many areas of the county could identify with. Middle School structure changes, the MGT Study, even the school start time issue. Most meetings however did not. I would guess, that at most we saw over 10 years, representation of maybe 50-60 schools. Principals that I talked to had a common theme ” It is hard to get folks to step up and come to yet another meeting”, my CAC meetings were typically coupled with PTA or PTO (yes I even went to PTO meetings)meetings to keep more people informed. I personally have been a big supporter of CAC. PTA has a fundamental opposition to CAC because we have the right to advocate already, not granted by the board but by our bylaws and mission, we are all part of a national organization. We have 5 minutes every board meeting because we are respectful, topical, and reporting on the activities of an organization that involves over 13,000 voices that use the school system as a consumer would. We get seats at school system meetings because we can put aside individual school issues and give commentary from an everychild onevoice perspective. PTO’s rarely step outside the local school arena because they are not set up that way; they are single school based and do wonderful work that way. CAC is invited to all the same things PTA is, they don’t always have someone there but the chair is open, when they have attended their voice is one of the strongest in the room. PTA’s do not get any rights from the board period, PTA is a Nationwide Advocacy Organization with its own 501c3, it does its fundraising on its own, and with the permission of the local school principal. Its funds are used for school enrichment, training and advocacy. Our seat on the SBNC is mandated by the State legislature, and if you listened to my questions recently you would have found that I took great pains in not having a PTA only stance in my questions, although I have every right to. I focused on what the candidates thought could enhance parental involvement and what they thought that involvement would entail.

I have even taken steps to help and provide perspective to both Tom Frank and Joanna Conti; I have met with both as AACCPTA President and have found our conversations to be very productive. I will not however stand by and let someone write untruths and misrepresent the Anne Arundel County Council of PTA’s. We do not have a long standing campaign against CAC. I (current President) certainly have not had a opposed position in the last 10 years, and have questioned the CAC/BOE relationship many times. We do have a good working relationship with the School system and the Board of Education born out of mutual respect.

Countywide CAC meetings have run the entire range over the years from productive calm meetings to raucous, hurtful, demeaning diatribes on 13thHigh School Issues, and single school or cluster issues that have been beaten to death. People have left meetings in tears, and many have just left never to participate again.

Clusters: only 2 have been even close to effective over the last 7-10 years, Severna Park and Chesapeake, I’m not so naive to think that others haven’t tried or even succeeded in the past, just never long term. I never went away without something from a CWCAC meeting but rarely without having to ignore comments that were out of line or disrespectful.

A 26 person board would assure all voices get to the table, where most do not now. I personally want to see a Student and an At Large representation, and as stated before do not believe a PTA seat is necessary but am fine with lending a hand to help things as I always have with CAC.

Ray Leone
Past CAC Chair Edgewater ES, Central Middle, South River HS
President AACCPTA

To Whom it may Concern:

I would like to express my support for maintaining the CAC as it currently stands as a grassroots organization instead of a School Board appointed organization. I believe it is essential to the quality of our schools to allow schools and clusters to have representatives that are nominated at the school/PTA level and not at the board level. Effective change can happen from the bottom up, and does not always need to be controlled or regulated by a political body or through a top down approach. Please understand that more parent, student and teacher voices can be heard if you maintain the current set up.


Kirsten Chapman
Annapolis, MD

To Whom It May Concern,

Just wanted to say it is about time that the board of education updated the CAC Policy. This group has been dysfunctional for years. I believe your concept of 24 members for the Executive committee guarantees equal representation from around the county and your at large members will complement this group. I do however, believe that there should be some form of student representation to truly make this an equal partnership.

I would also like to bring to your attention the word you use in the Policy itself under Part C, number 4, I would remove the words "countywide and replace with "executive committee", this keeps the consistency and removes what might be confusing for some.

Rita Lowman
Monarch Academy Public Charter School

My name is Philip Kijak, I have been involved in the CAC at High Point Elementary, George Fox Middle, and Northeast High School. I currently am the Northeast High School representative to the county CAC. I wish to comment on the proposed policy changes and regulations to the CAC. I do want to be clear that I am sending my personal thoughts and views on the policy changes.

I will be the first to admit that the current CAC system is broken and not functioning effectively. As set up, it is overly bureaucratic, often does not function at the local or school board level as intended, and needs to be updated.

That said, the proposed policy and regulations for the CAC represent a classic example of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

I strongly urge that the Board not adopt the proposed policy change and instead take a second attempt at modifying the CAC regulations. I oppose this poorly thought out modification for the following reasons:

1) While many county schools do not have a functioning CAC, where they are used they can be a very effective tool in addressing local problems that are beyond the scope of PTAs and PTSOs. While I was at High Point Elementary, the CAC was critical in addressing traffic issues on Duvall Highway, sponsored school cleanups, sponsored the science fair, championed the cause of walls for the open space teaching areas, and helped to elevate concerns about lack of security around portable classrooms. CAC representation of the Northeast Cluster played a role in raising the issue of the poor state of Northeast High School following the review of county wide school facilities and through this effort played a role in starting the push for the renovation of this facility which is currently underway. In my view, the problem is that the CAC functions well at the local level when there are legitimate issues to address. However, the proposed policy totally eliminates these organizations instead of providing options for local and cluster CACs when needed.

2. The policy has only 24 citizens on an advisory board for which they must fill out an application to the Board. This process will self select a limited number of individuals and likely focus on the limited few who are already politically connected in the schools. I for example came to be on the county CAC through getting involved at the local CAC. I did not know, and still do not know, many individuals at the county school headquarters, yet have been able to bring local issues to the attention of the county CAC. I have seen many individuals over the years who have contributed greatly to the CAC who came into the organization via the local school system. The decision on who should serve should rest at the local school level.

3) Additionally, from a philosophic standpoint, I think the school system is already overly centralized with limited input from the local schools on policies that directly impact the quality of life for not only the students, but parents, residents and local business owners of our communities. The removal of the power to appoint the local CAC removes one more voice that can raise local concerns to the school board. CAC representatives that are appointed by the school board are more likely to reflect the views of the school board, and less likely to be willing to be critical of school board actions. It will increase the probability of "Abilene Paradox" decisions.

4) The final concern is that the new regulations appear to me to give greater weight to the School Board determining and directing what problems or issues CAC can and cannot study or address. One of the concerns with the current CAC structure which lead to the resignation of the previous County Chair and the studying of the current regulations was the lack of independence of the CAC and inferred control of the CAC by the school board. Yet in my view, the proposed regulations increase rather than decrease the control of the CAC by the board. The CAC needs to be an independent voice to raise concerns to the school board. Many of the issues that the County CAC has addressed over the years did not come from the broad giving direction to the CAC to study an issue. Rather, the issues were brought to the attention of the board by concerns raised by local CAC representatives. Only an independent CAC has the ability to truly raise those issues that are difficult, unpleasant, or politically incorrect that require the School Board to address. By giving greater control of the CAC agenda to the board, the CAC will simply become a mirror, reflecting back to the school board what it wants to see.

I realize that there is an issue of getting sufficient number of volunteers to work on the county CAC, and there is the concern that meetings are sometimes dominated by a small group from a single school or cluster. However, this argument can be flipped. When there are not hot button issues, it is expected that attendance will drop. When an issue impacts a particular school or cluster, why would you not expect many people from that school or cluster to attend a meeting?

At the last School Board meeting, I heard a lady from the Meade Feeder system give testimony supporting the proposed policy change. The gist of her argument was we don't have a local CAC, we haven't tried a local CAC, so lets do away with them. I think that is the easy but unproductive way out. Instead, I would suggest to those who have not seen the impact of a CAC on issues locally, jump in the waters fine.

On June 11, 2011, Countywide CAC Chair Joanna Conti wrote a column in the Capital making the case for an independent and grassroots CAC system.  Three current or former Countywide PTA leaders, including one currently serving on the school board, responded with the following comments on the Capital's website:

It seems if you were truly interested in the students of AACPS and all of their needs you would be seeking to redesign the CAC so it better represents the entire county as well as using other avenues which are meant to advocate-such as the PTA..

(Ms. Jung is Countywide PTA Secretary for FY2011 as well as a principal's secretary within AACPS)

where have you been?
So I have to wonder where have you been Ms Conti for these past few years? why is it that until you were elected you had NEVER attended a county-wide CAC meeting.
Just seems odd that now you want to help us poor parents advocate through the CAC. No thanks I can advocate without you and your agenda.

(The author of "just a thought," Debbie Ritchie, is currently serving on the Board of Education and was formerly Chair of the Countywide PTA)

What Ms. Conti does not seem to understand is that the CAC is not an organization but an advisory board to the Board of Education. it is not a parent group but can only advise the board on issues. She seems to be using this platform for her own political reasons and not to benefit the school system. According to the policy as it is written now the CAC is an arm of the board of education so they are not independent organization.

(Anita Owens is a former president of the Countywide PTA as well as the PTA's representative on the Anne Arundel School Board Nominating Commission)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

School Board Nominating Commission Update for 2011

My column in the Patch (click on the title to go to the article; also copied below).
During the last four years I have closely followed the development and implementation of the Anne Arundel School Board Nominating Commission (SBNC), which nominates individuals to the Governor for appointment to the School Board.  I have written literally hundreds of pages on the 2007 legislation creating the SBNC and its first three years of operation from 2008-2010 (see   No one, excluding about half the commissioners, has attended more SBNC meetings.  Indeed, I have attended more than three times the number of SBNC meetings as all local newspaper reporters combined.  Often the only members of the public who attend the SBNC meetings are candidates and school staff.  This year was worse than normal, with no reporter from the Capital, Washington Post, or Baltimore Sun either covering the meetings (let alone thoughtfully or with any sense of history) or even bothering to reprint the SBNC’s press releases.  An exception was the Severna Park Patch, which profiled the Severna Park candidate.

At the end of last year I decided four years of covering the SBNC was enough.  So this year, while Chair of the Countywide Citizen Advisory Committee, I emailed all local CAC representatives announcing I’d no longer be covering the SBNC and seeking someone else to take over reporting on the SBNC on behalf of the parents.  I got no takers, not even an expression of mild interest.

The last regular meeting of the SBNC for the 2011 election cycle took place on May 17, two weeks ago.  Since then, there has been no newspaper coverage of the election results, let alone of the bombshell announced during the last minute of the May 17 meeting.  Since it’s now clear that no one else is going to cover the SBNC for the 2011 election cycle, I’ve decide to extend my coverage for one more year.

During the 2011 Anne Arundel County School Board election cycle, the Anne Arundel County School Board Nominating Commission (SBNC) was tasked with finding two individuals from District 33 to nominate for the School Board.  The current incumbent from District 33, Vic Bernson, decided not to run for a second term.  Bernson, a Republican, is the last member of the School Board appointed under a Republican governor.  In recent years, he was also typically the only dissenting vote on the School Board.

The SBNC met three times: March 28, May 16, and May 17.  The first meeting was administrative in nature, including setting a deadline for candidates to file applications, the dates for the two candidate hearings, and the date for the final election of the candidates.  A separate date for the final election (May 23) was subsequently canceled.  The SBNC did not send me any email notices regarding the above meetings, including the date cancellation, despite my numerous requests to its leadership that it do so and past promises from it that it would.

Given that the School Board administers approximately $1 billion, 10,000 employees, 121 schools, and 76,000 students—one of the largest school districts in the United States—the blasé approach to appointing/electing School Board members is noteworthy.  In the great majority of school districts, school board races generate substantial newspaper coverage and public interest, if only among the 20% or so of the population with kids in the public schools.

For the first year in its four year history, the SBNC offered no opportunity for public comment on SBNC administrative matters.  Public comments were specifically banned from its March 28 meeting to discuss administrative matters, and no opportunity for general public comment was offered at its May 16 or May 17 hearings.  The May 17 hearing offered an opportunity for public comment on the two SBNC candidates, but no public comment on any other matter.

Both the number of meetings (three) and the total time spent in meetings for the year (under four hours) were a historic low for the SBNC.  This year there was no field hearing for the open position.  This was blamed on lack of public participation at previous field hearings.   As a result, District 33 has been the only district not to receive a field hearing during the SBNC's four-year existence.  But the SBNC's perception, accurate I believe, is that the District 33 community wouldn't care one way or the other.

Only two candidates applied: Amalie Brandenburg of Severna Park and James Pembrook Scott of Crownsville.  Neither had the long track record of public involvement with AACPS policy issues that was once typical of successful AACPS school board candidates.  The low applicant pool may indicate a sense of hopelessness among people who in prior years might have aspired to a School Board position.

On May 17, the SBNC voted on both candidates. Amalie Brandenburg was unanimously approved (11-0) and James Scott was unanimously rejected, with two abstentions.  However, the law stipulates that the SBNC must submit two nominees to the Governor, so both names were forwarded to the Governor.  The Governor is expected to make his selection by July 1, 2011, when by law the new School Board member is to take office.

The SBNC did not discuss the problems created by its unanimous vote against Scott.  The vote disclosed an inconsistency in the SBNC's rules.  By statute, the SBNC must forward two names to the Governor.  But the SBNC has a rule, passed unanimously if I recall correctly, that a candidate must receive eight of eleven votes (a supermajority) to have his or her name passed on to the Governor.  There is no provision in the written rules to cover a situation where two candidates don’t get the required supermajority, probably because there was an assumption that many more candidates would submit applications to the SBNC.  More than twenty candidates applied during the SBNC's first year of operation in 2008.

The bombshell released at the end of the May 17 meeting was that, in the opinion of the Chair, in consultation with counsel from the Maryland Attorney General's Office, the Governor need not appoint either of the two candidates and may request that the SBNC submit the names of additional candidates.   This is a radically new interpretation of the law.   One of the major public selling points for the SBNC when it was created was that its nominations would, unlike those of the previous School Board Nominating Convention, be binding on the Governor.  All prior discussions that I recall assumed that the Governor would have to choose among the candidates submitted by the SBNC, not that he could keep coming back to the SBNC requesting the names of additional nominees until he was satisfied with them.

This ruling generates a fundamental shift in the balance of power between the Governor and the SBNC.   It also suggests that SBNC commissioners, without publicly acknowledging so, may be losing confidence in their ability to operate effectively as an institution.  My sense is that the SBNC commissioners have become fearful of their own power to shape the School Board in their own image.  Sometimes there is danger in being perceived as too influential.  This may also have been reflected in the lack of behind-the-scenes candidate recruitment this year.

Assuming this ruling is not overturned (and it was made in a way that would allow plausible deniability if it should prove politically embarrassing), it creates a new set of unresolved issues in interpreting the statute creating the SBNC.  If the Governor doesn't have to pick among the SBNC's nominees in a timely way, what is the status of the July 1, 2011 deadline to appoint a new school board?  I'd have to go back and carefully read the various scattered rules for enlightenment on this question.   Perhaps the incumbent could stay on indefinately.  Or perhaps the School Board would have to operate short one member.  Other interpretations and unanticipated legal conflicts could be possible.  Sure enough, we might need yet the gazillionth legal interpretation from the Attorney General's office to figure out what the law creating the SBNC really means (incidentally, only a few of those legal opinions have been posted on the SBNC's website).   The original legislation creating the SBNC was created in haste, without due consideration of practical realities, without an opportunity for public comment, and without a template to work from (of the more than 14,000 school boards in the United States, Anne Arundel’s school board electoral system is unique).

In this particular case, I don't expect the Governor to exercise his newly announced powers unless Ms. Brandenburg has some major undisclosed skeletons in her closet.  Ms. Brandenburg said all the right things at her hearing and has the important characteristics the Governor would be expected to want in an AACPS school board member.  If anyone doubts that, the SBNC's unanimous vote for her should make that clear.  I expect that she will be a popular choice in the community.

There are always delightful inconsistencies to be found when attending an SBNC meeting.  My favorite year after year is the SBNC's protestations that it loves community involvement.   Since there has consistently been awful community involvement, the implication is always that the lack of involvement is the fault of the community, not the SBNC.  If the SBNC wasn't defensive on this point, I don't know why it would so incessantly harp on it.   This year did not disappoint.  At the May 16 meeting, the SBNC's Chair gave his perfunctory statement praising community involvement.  Then he proceeded to ask a question to the candidates about what they see as the role of a school board member.  Great question.  But then he clarified his question and gave away the type of answer he wanted.  He asked if school board members should micromanage the administration (for those in the know, "micromanage" is a dirty word in school politics).  And he elaborated by stating that micromanagement included soliciting feedback from individual schools rather than relying on the communications from AACPS administrative staff and official group representatives.

Following both the spirit and letter of Maryland's Open Meetings Law has never been the SBNC's strong suit.  2011 was no exception.

At the March 28 meeting, it was announced that the next meeting would include a presentation from a representative from the office of Maryland's Attorney General explaining what the ambiguous SBNC statute really means.  Since 2008, the requirements for incumbent school board members to seek reelection have been reinterpreted multiple times by the Attorney General’s office.  At the May 17 meeting there was in fact a representative from the Attorney General's office to do that.  But inconsistent with the promise at the March 28 meeting, the advice was provided in executive session.  No explanation was given why a public official providing an explanation of a public law to a public body had to do so secretly.  As a political scientist with a background in democratic theory, I would say that there are few more important ingredients to a well functioning democracy than the ability of the public to have access to the laws under which it is ruled.

Another interesting feature of the March 28 meeting was its apparent exclusive televising for School Board members: a nice perk not available to the average citizen.  The March 28 meeting was televised live over Channel 96, giving the Board the plausible excuse that it wasn't merely for the convenience of insiders.  However, past SBNC administrative meetings have not been televised and there was no public notice of the televised meeting.  Nor was there any indication on the AACPS website that the meeting would be rebroadcast or had ever in fact been broadcast.  The only people I know for sure who watched the meeting, or knew that it would be available on TV, were Board members.

As an aside, televising meetings the way the Board does it is not inexpensive; it has typically required the services of three AACPS employees.  The Board and the Public Information Office remain adamant that they will not webcast Board meetings, despite the fact that communities one hundredth the size of Anne Arundel County now routinely provide such webcasts of their public meetings.  (Speaking as a political scientist, webcast meetings are widely considered to be a much greater political risk than the type of live broadcast AACPS now tolerates).   The cost of televising the March 28 meeting for the convenience of Board members, not the public, could have been better spent providing years worth of archived, online webcasts of school board meetings. (In our YouTube age, labor is expensive compared to webcasting, which explains why even a few hours of labor costs the same as many more hours of archived, online webcasting.)

Writing about Open Meetings Law violations is famously hard because one doesn’t know what one doesn’t know.  Nevertheless, sometimes one can infer violations from public evidence.  An example is the SBNC's going into the secret executive session on May 17 without providing advance notice of the subjects that would be discussed and why they were exempt from public disclosure.  But this is a relatively trivial example because when the SBNC came out of executive session, reasons were provided.   On the other hand, the reason the topics of executive session are supposed to be presented upfront is so that there is an opportunity to challenge the need to go into executive session to discuss a particular topic.

In contrast, the Chair’s announcement at the very end of the May 17 meeting that the Governor was not bound to choose among the two nominees was not a trivial violation.  This issue had never been discussed either publicly at an SBNC meeting or announced as a topic of discussion for executive session.  Announcing such a bombshell legal opinion, with no prior warning and only a few minutes before the last meeting of the SBNC not only for the year but also before the expiration of the terms of all the gubernatorial appointees to the SBNC, has a dirty odor to it.

The SBNC has always been poor at posting the minutes of its last meeting of each election cycle.  This is the set of minutes that features its votes on the candidates (bombshells such as the announcement of the legal opinion concerning the governor's option not to appoint the SBNC's nominees may or may not make the minutes because they are not official actions).  Usually there has been an approximately eight month delay in publicly posting the minutes.  By the time they are posted, no one is usually any longer interested in them.  The candidate bios and much other relevant information to which they refer may also be long since removed from the public portion of the website (but still available to insiders behind a firewall).  Since the SBNC never posts the dates when it posts (or modifies) minutes (and most other documents as well), all this is invisible to anyone who doesn’t watch closely.

Note that an eight month delay in posting minutes is by no means the worst case.  For example, the last set of minutes from the 2009 election cycle, from the meeting held on July 29, 2009 to vote for an open at-large seat after Tricia Johnson resigned from the School Board, has still not been posted as of May 31, 2011, close to two years later.  It is noteworthy that as of May 31, 2011 none of the SBNC meeting minutes from its 2011 election cycle had yet been posted on the SBNC's website.   It has not been unusual for many SBNC public meetings to go by without such a public posting of the minutes.  In 2008, the SBNC illegally held two meetings in private.  After I complained to Maryland’s Open Meetings Compliance Board, the SBNC did post the minutes to those meetings.  But more than three years later it has not posted that the meetings were held illegally in private.

Notwithstanding the above, there is much to commend an appointed school board, especially in a giant school district such as AACPS.  Sir Winston Churchill once said that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other forms that have been tried.”  I do not doubt that hundreds of other school systems have worse electoral systems than ours.