A year ago the Montgomery County School Board appointed a citizens committee to look into the way the board operates, and yesterday they got the answer:
They are unable to work cooperatively . . . fight over personal things they want done, are susceptible to political influences, cannot withstand political pressure, they vacillate, procrastinate, and are inefficient, petty and slow.
On the other hand, the committee found, the board did manage to negotiate a new three-year contract with employes and stuck to their deal even though it meant reworking the budget. They also reevaluated their policy on closing schools and came up with a new, more coordinated, policy, according to the report.
Overall, however, the report is a predominately critical of the way the school board operates.
Despite this, Elizabeth Spencer, board president praised the work of the commission. "I think (it) has done an exceedingly careful, painstaking job in a businesslike fashion and I think they have proposed recommendations which the school board will be very interested in."
The commission concluded that the Montgomery school board is not obsolete as an institution but that the current Montgomery board simply has difficulties. "Other boards in the Washington area face the same problems under the same constraints, yet, on the whole, they seem to operate more effectively than does the Montgomery County board," the report states.
At the same time, the report says "there is no question that the board as a whole is dedicated to the betterment of public education in our country and is willing to work endless hours at its job."
The board's problems stem from three basic causes, the report says. In addition to the lack of cooperation among board members, the board has failed to develop working relationships needed for effective decision making, and also is excessively preoccupied with individual objectives instead of concentrating on collective purposes.
The report suggests the board solve these difficulties with "a more conscientious attitude toward homework, self-discipline in public discussions, concerted efforts to bring issues to closure, and adherence to priorities."
The report makes 46 recommendations including suggesting that board members make a concerted effort to work together as a body, subordinate their own personal interests to the best interests of the young people in the schools, and circulate all position papers prepared by board members on issues to all other members.
The report, which contained few specific examples of the deficiencies cited, said the board had "problems with its agendas. One problem is that the times set for some obviously complex and controversial items have been grossly inadequate."
In addition the board established a list of priorities more than a year ago, according to the report, but has not even begun to study some of the items like the language arts program, (English and other language skills) open enrollment, racial balance and pupil transfers.
The Board also is slowed down when it has to deal with Superintendent Charles M. Bernardo. Much of the material he provides for board discussions is overwhelming, and "prolongs the board's indecision" on certain issues. "The superintendent sometimes gives rambling and irrelevent answers to questions from board members which board members unaccountably fail to pursue, contributing to the ineffectiveness of their public discussions," according to the report.
The board does not do its homework, the report said. Some board members are unprepared to discuss certain items on the agenda because they have not read the materials provided, said the report. Lack of preparation leads to confused statements from the board members on issues, the report said.