Our school system is a business, albeit a unique one, with an operating budget of nearly a quarter billion dollars. The governing body of our school system, the board of education, operates under a risk-averse model. Although this model may have served our board’s purpose in the past, the world and the
business climate in which we operate has significantly changed, and so should the model.
The board’s five members, who function as a team, should be a representational cross section of our community, reflecting the diversity of thought one would find throughout Cecil County. We don’t
currently have that. Having a 5-member board, all endorsed by the teachers’ union, should be of significant concern for every citizen, considering a primary function of the board of education is to negotiate, and ultimately honor, the teachers’ union contract on behalf of the citizens of Cecil County, not the union. Additionally, the board sits as the appeals board for union grievances. At a minimum, both scenarios establish the appearance of a conflict of interest, which public officials should always avoid. I was clear with the union back in May, at the beginning of their endorsement process, that I would not seek an endorsement because of these conflict-of-interest issues.
We need to elect school board members who will evaluate our school system’s direction from an “outside looking in” perspective, like the way a corporate board member would function, rather than the current model’s “inside looking out” approach. What we need are board members who are responsive to the values, beliefs, and priorities of the community, not potentially just one special interest group. We can’t find solutions to tough problems if everyone working on the problem has the same mindset.
With the challenges we’ll face implementing Maryland’s new education law, The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, we’ll need common sense practitioners who can think out of the box and be creative. The State mandated costs to Cecil County taxpayers alone are steep ($104.5 million cumulative extra cost to our County over the next 10 years, plus $21 million more per year each year starting in 2034) and many of The Blueprint’s elements have yet to be tested.
We need to elect school board members who will serve in trust for the community and who are willing to take risks and challenge the status quo. That’s the new model we need with the challenges we face. By the way, it’s also called leadership.
-Russ Johnson Cecil County School Board Candidate