The Montgomery County board of education, concerned about its ever-expanding string of meetings, and its ever-decreasing opportunities to meet informally with the public is seriously considering appointing a citizens' commission to study the functioning of the board and how it uses its time.
The commission, according to its sponsor, board member Roscoe Nix, would study "how the board relates to the public, how the board uses its staff, how the board uses its time, and whether an institution like the board has already become obsolete or is becoming obsolete."
Nix added, "the board's concept of its role may be obsolete - but I do not know that this is true."
Nix's suggestion was triggered, he said, by "the accumulation of meetings, the long executive sessions and our isolation from the public."
Supt. of Schools Charles M. Bernardo strongly supported the Nix proposal in a memo released on Tuesday. "Statistics clearly show a recent upsurge in the number of board meetings," the memo said, noting that in 1965 there had been 43 public meetings of the board, 45 in 1970 and 77 in 1975.
"Despite this quantity of meetings, the board has spent precious little time discussing program development, curriculum and instruction, and program evaluation and quality assurance . . . " the memo said.
At Tuesday's meeting, Bernardo added that the mushrooming number of board meetings also puts greater pressure on the staff members who work with the board. "To the extend that the problems Mr. Nix refers to exist, the staff tends to be more and more responsive to the needs of the board and less and less responsive to the needs of the schools," Bernardo said.
Nix, in discussing his proposals Tuesday, also pointed out that "once you get on this board you meets so much that it's impossible for you to take any time to look at what you've done and evaluate it.
"In my opinion there are things that are more important, more beneficial, and more desirable than holding public meetings . . . being on the board of education is no excuse for a person to be uneducated," Nix added.
Reaction from most board members Tuesday was whole-heartedly in support of Mr. Nix's proposal. "We ought to move on Roscoe's resolution as quickly as possible," said board member Blair Ewing, who suggested that the commission be given a six month deadline. However, the board made no decision on the actual appointment of the commission nor on the amount of time it would devote to its work.
Aside from the sheer amount of time the board spends in formal meetings and executive sessions, Nix's resolution also expressed concern about the possible misuse of staff energies and the psychological wall that may exist between the board and the public in the setting of a formal meeting.
"Isn't it possible that formal meetings develop into an adversary relationship with the public?" Nix said before Tuesday's meeting. Later, at the meeting he added that "many times, as we get cut off from the community we can develop a certain kind of arrogance . . . it is dangerous.
"Not being out in the community I can come to the conclusion that I know what is best for the community, and how dare the community challenge me?" Nix said sarcastically.
In addition, Nix asked, "What are the requests we are making of staff?" Before the meeting, he had noted that, "I have made very little requests of the staff in the last two years because the kind of other requests that have been made would make me fell that I was adding a burden if I put my own on top of that." Nix would not say whether he blamed some of his colleagues on the board for the volume of requests for staff aid.
In addition to Nix's resolution, board president Herbert Benington also proposed that members of the board of education, in conjunction with Supt. Bernardo, immediately start working together to establish priorities for the coming year.
Benington suggested that, in view of complaints "that the system is asking principals and teachers to do too much" that the board refine its objectives.
Benington also requested suggestions from his colleagues on when, with whom, and in what settings board meetings should take place. "I am asking the board to take a near-term view," of the board's operations, Benington said. Mr Nix's proposal, he noted, offered an opportunity for an independent group to take a longer range look at the board and its work.
Before Tuesday's meeting, Nix had said, "I'm not afraid of what the recommendations (of the citizens' commission) will be. They might say that a person like me who is a full-time executive in the federal government has no business on the board of education. It might say that members of the present board of education need to be fully paid instead. I hope it doesn't. But I am asking for it to consider fundamental issues like that.
"I'm not suggesting that the board of education be replaced. I am suggesting . . . that there needs to be a de-escalation of (time spent on) meetings. If, once I get on the board, my time is so consumed in meetings that I can't exercise my expertise, that's a form of vegetation."