Kristen Caminiti misdiagnoses the problem in her guest column, “Board members lack professionalism and respect” (The Capital, May 17).
First, the problem at Anne Arundel County Public Schools is not a lack of professionalism and respect in the public’s public relationship with AACPS staff, including the superintendent, but a culture of fear and sycophancy. For example, parents who want to rise to positions of influence within AACPS, such as a position on the Parent Involvement Advisory Committee, can only do so by publicly toeing the administration’s line.
Similarly, school board members are under immense political pressure not to say anything publicly critical of senior staff. The superintendent and his staff endlessly tell board members not to micromanage them and, if they want to comment on a potentially controversial issue, to discuss it with them privately rather than publicly. The resulting “professionalism and respect” is a disaster for democratic accountability because the public can only be informed of problems and options to solve them if knowledgeable insiders are willing to share their insights publicly.
Second, AACPS’s PR office, with its $2 million+/year budget and compensation package worth $200,000+/year for its head, has too much power and routinely abuses it. We should applaud, not criticize, school board members willing to speak for themselves rather than allowing AACPS’s PR office to speak for them. The problem is not school board members seeking to rein in the PR office but their terror of doing so, including challenging the PR office’s excessive power to intimidate school board members and its willful and repeated violations of Maryland’s right-to-know laws.
Concerning the “professionalism and respect” senior staff demand from the public, I am reminded of a comment by my barber who had come to the United States from Russia. She said that in some respects there was less freedom and tolerance for criticism than in Russia. Her example: AACPS.
Source: Snider, J.H., ‘Fear and Sycophancy’ at Anne Arundel Schools, Capital, May 21, 2020.