Although many Prince George's County parents are unhappy with the school board's decision to close 10 elementary schools, most would agree that it was a tough decision for the school board to make.
The fact that the board was able to make the decision while the previous school board could not is perhaps as signigicant as the school closing episode itself.
In less than an hour the board closed 10 schools. The previous school board did not close even one school - despite the apparent need - during more than a year of deliberation. In the interim, however, the philosophical complexion of the two boards had changed considerably. The change came about during the last school board election when two staunch foes of busing were dropped from the board.
The former school board was locked in a sort of time warp that began and ended in 1973 with the court-ordered desegregation of county schools.
The busing foes, who outnumbered the liberals on the board at that time, tried to use any issue they could to by-pass the busing order without setting themselves up for another court battle. The liberals used their votes to help maintain the spirit of the court order and advance integration in the county.
As a result of the conflict, the former shcool board was stymied.
The debate over open enrollment at Eleanor Roosevelt Seniro High brings the contrast between the two boards into sharp focus. Open enrollment had permitted students from county high schools to be transferred to the newly built Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt. Conservatives such as former shcool board member Nicholas R. Eny tired to use the policy to bypass the busing plan.
The conflict finally settled on the transfer of 30 white students and four black students from Fairmont Heights High School to Eleanor Roosevelt High School.
"Everyone started shouting at once and I couldn't control it," said former board chairwoman Sue V. Mills, who described one of the meetings last year.
"I'm embarrassed by the disgraceful conduct of the board," member Maureen K. Steinecke said of that meeting."
The conservatives on the school board argued that the school board could grant the student transfers while the liberals said the transfers would resegregate Fairmont Heights High School, the school from which they would be transferrred.
It was clearly a ploy by anti-busers to get around the busing plan.
"It was an issue of black and white," said former conservative school board member Kathy M. Barker who recently summed up the problem of the former school board.
But when the present school board took up the issue of open enrollment last January they resolved it in one meeting. Again, they decided an issue that the former school board wrestled with for more than a year without resolving.
"This board is not as prone to shoot from the hip," said Steinecke, who said she no longer has headaches as a result of school board meetings.
Other school board members have characterized the present school board as "less abrasive," "more cohesive" and as having "better working relationships."
The change has come not only as a result of the school board election last November, but has developed as a result of the strong working relationship between the present superintendent and the school board.
Unlike the former superintendent, Edward J. Feeney apparently has learned to work with the school board rather than be dominated by it.
Not all members agree that the present board functions better than the former one. "It is too early to tell," says member A. James Golato.
Golato said the old board's "hammering out of ideas" was often constructive in dealing with complex issues.