After 23 years as a principal in Prince George's County public schools, Milton J. Bailey wants a chance to turn some of his ideas into official school board policies. He is worried by a perception that school administrators have lost much of their power to deal with problems, especially those involving discipline, and that the school board and county teachers, in failing to "face the financial facts of life," have allowed too many teachers to lose their jobs.
Bailey, 56, lives in Marlton in the 5th school board district, 16 miles south of the political stronghold of Bowie. Incumbent A. James Golato, who is stepping down to run for the County Council, is also from Bowie, as are two of the three other school board candidates.
Bailey was principal of John Hanson Junior High in Oxon Hill, Suitland Junior High in District Heights, Eisenhower Junior High in Laurel, and William Wirt Middle School in Riverdale before retiring in 1979. Now he works as a real estate agent and is legislative chairman of the county's Retired Teachers' Association. His wife Mary Ann is a science teacher at the new Forestville High School.
Dorothy Murray, who recently retired as president of the Retired Teachers' Association, strongly supports Bailey. "I encouraged him to run," she said. "He's very active . . . very interested in things. . . . He was very well-versed in what's going on in Annapolis and in what was going on in the school board. He kept in touch with things."
Bailey says the school board must develop a strong discipline policy, yet allow principals greater flexibility in administering it. When he began as a principal, he said, school administrators were told they "may" suspend students for certain conduct. But with the institution of a student code of conduct, with prescribed punishments, "you have your hands tied," he complained.
"In my experience, the word 'may' is much more workable from the principal's point of view than the word 'must'," he said. Without set punishments, he said, there is more incentive for principals to get parents involved and avoid suspensions.
Now, he says, "you are criticized for suspending too many children, but you don't have any choice." As a principal, he "realized that school administrators were losing their power to handle situations; I felt they needed more backing, and the teachers needed more backing as well." Too often teachers "have problems in the classroom and report it, but nothing happens. And when this happens, the whole system breaks down," he said.
Nancy H. McClelland, president of the county's Association of School Administrators and Supervisors, discounts Bailey's criticisms. "I cannot recall a time when I was not suported by the superintendent's office," she said.
The current system of set punishments for specific violations of the student code of conduct "is more workable" and less capricious, she said, and has the further advantage of being "very protective of student rights." Parents "seem quite pleased" with the code of conduct, she said, and added that it has never forced her to suspend a student.
But Bailey argues that reform of the discipline system is vitally important. "When you ask a parent why they sent their child to a private school, they say discipline is so bad in the classrooms," he said. "You also find teachers who have left the system because they don't feel the discipline situation is satisfactory."
A good discipline system will push up academic achievement, he adds, because good teachers and students will remain in public schools and have the best possible atmosphere to work in. "It disturbs me that only two or three graduates are National Merit scholars," Bailey said. "It would seem to me that with that many students, we should have a larger number."
To further help students achieve higher standards, he said, the school board should "investigate the possibility of a 'continuous progress system' where students advance as ability allows them -- and not necessarily on the same level for each subject. It would be difficult, I admit, but we should do the best we can."
Bailey's other principal concern is that the school system "face the financial facts of life -- that they aren't going to have as much money as they have had in the past." Immediately after November's elections, during which county voters will decide whether or not they support the TRIM Plus Four charter amendment that would allow for small increases in property tax revenues, the school system should "evaluate every program and every position that we have in the system," looking for possible cuts, he said.
He complains that the cuts the board made at the beginning of the summer, which included laying off almost 500 teachers, were made in haste. "You cannot satisfactorily examine all the programs involved in three weeks and come up with sensible reductions," he maintained. "Personally, I don't believe it was necessary to do what they did." He said classroom teachers, as the most important part of the school system, should not have been cut.
But Bailey adds that teachers have not distinguished themselves by their response to the school system's financial difficulties. A member of the county Educators' Association for 28 years, he said he is "strongly in favor of that organization". But teachers "have probably negotiated for more wages and benefits than they should have. . . . It appears to me they gave no regard to the limitations that were eventually going to catch up with them."