Breaking Bread with School Boards

At the Maryland Association of Boards of Education 2017 Conference, a session on building relationships with public officials sounds a common theme of meeting over meals.

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Panelists report that cooperation between county governments and school boards can be fun–and rewarding.

In “Building Relationships with Public Officials & the Community: How We Got to a Good Place,” Caroline County Commissioner Larry Porter spoke with representatives of the Caroline, Anne Arundel and Calvert County school systems, sharing examples ways to strengthen relationships between the leadership of the school system and the local government.

Many positives practices were reported, including shared maintenance of fields, joint use of repair shops for buses, and other cost-saving ventures. Financial savings and stability was a common outcome reported by the panelists. Caroline County Assistant Superintendent Milton Nagel even recounted how the school system had returned some of its funding to Caroline County government when the State cut highway user revenues mid-year.

As far as ways to build those helpful connections, a common theme that emerged included the practice of gathering over food – dinner, lunch, and even picnics. It might seem trivial, but the power of food to bring officials together was evident in the stories that the panelists shared. Casual events that maintained open-meeting protocols, but included an opportunity for county officials and school board members to talk about more than just business, in the many instances shared, became the springboard for cooperation over the budget and other areas of potential conflict.

A few words of advice from the panelists and the audience included:

  • Create a tradition of meetings between the Board and the County government – and make sure to continue that tradition when times are good and relationships are strong. That will buoy the practice when there is turnover in either entity, or when there are conflicts between the bodies.
  • Invite participation from the other entity in special committees as possible and relevant. Montgomery County Council Member Craig Rice, for example, spoke of a superintendent search committee that included members of the school board and the county council.
  • Consider meetings that include more than just the two bodies. One example is inviting the school board along with other county government departments to a discussion of the upcoming budget year.

The Maryland Association of Boards of Education Conference is an annual event, for more information, click here.