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November 9, 2006

Traipsing Around the Hog Pen

John W. Ashbury

Before you read any further, please acquire an old fashioned clothes pin and place it on your nose. This situation really stinks.

It isn’t clear just what is going on at the Frederick County Board of Education, but it is quite apparent that a double standard exists. It seems that there is one set of rules for board members liked by the others, and another set for those who present a “contrary” view.

More than two years ago Board Member Donna Crook was asked by a group of parents of dyslexic children to attend what is called an IEP (Individualized Education Program) discussion for each of their children. Mrs. Crook is dyslexic, a disability she has overcome.

These meetings usually consist of the parents, the teacher and a staff specialist. Apparently board members are not welcome because an ethics complaint against Mrs. Crook was filed.

When the results of the ethics hearing came to the board, it was read in open session and Mrs. Crook was chastised by her fellow members and told that her presence at the IEP meeting was intimidating to the staff. The comments were particularly harsh, perhaps in part because Mrs. Crook is a frequent thorn in their sides. She doesn’t kowtow to their wishes at every turn, thus raising their ire. They can’t control her.

Now we skip forward to this year and low and behold, another board member is charged with an ethical oversight. Barbara Craig, who was elected to the board in 2004, signed her “Annual Ethics Disclosure Statement on January 11, 2006, stating that she did not own “an interest in or receive income from a business entity that is a party to an existing contract with the Board of Education, or otherwise doing business with the Board of Education” during the preceding calendar year. Mrs. Craig said she didn’t and signed the document as being accurate “under penalties of perjury.”

The sadness is that Mrs. Craig did receive compensation from United Healthcare during 2005, the period covered by the ethics form. United Healthcare provides contracted services in regards to the Frederick County Public Schools’ health insurance program.

This matter was referred to the BOE Ethics Committee and a report was issued. However, and the difference here, this letter was presented to the Board of Education in closed session with no public acknowledgement that any opinion had been issued by the Ethics Committee. Word has leaked out that Mrs. Craig was chastised on this issue.

But how is Mrs. Craig failure to follow the law any different that Mrs. Crook’s “violation?” Perhaps it is only because Mrs. Craig “goes along, to get along” and Mrs. Crook delves into the issues on behalf of children and doesn’t always follow the majority lead.

During a recent meeting of the Board of Education, Mrs. Crook was questioning some parts of the new Master Plan and was making serious points. Mrs. Craig, who sits next to Mrs. Crook, continually made faces at Mrs. Crook, knowing full well that Mrs. Crook could not see her, but the rest of the board could. Mrs. Craig was being disrespectful simply because she disagreed with Mrs. Crook.

We skip forward now to the present and learn that Mrs. Craig has resigned from the school board effective November 30 “to seek” gainful employment. Mrs. Craig has been quoted as saying the $3,000 salary of a school board member is insufficient to meet her needs after her other employment ended this past summer.

Now we discover that she is applying for a position with Frederick County Public Schools – to replace John Sherwin as comptroller. Mr. Sherwin is retiring in January.

The position pays in excess of $120,000 a year. Mrs. Craig, as a certified public accountant, would seem to have the qualifications for the job, but she must go through the interview process, just like everyone else.

The interesting part comes with how she learned of the opening; she was invited to Mr. Sherwin’s retirement party. People outside the school system would not likely get such an invitation. She then went to the personnel department where she learned that she couldn’t apply as long as she was a school board member; thus her resignation.

Those in the conspiracy theory department believe that not only has Mrs. Craig been promised the job, but that she is the first choice of a majority of Board of Education members to replace Harold Keller in about 18 months as FCPS chief financial officer. Nice gig if you can get it.

FCPS has a “Character Counts” program that all children are expected to learn and adhere to. How come it – apparently – doesn’t apply to the members of the board?

This mess stinks. The Board of Education has been fiscally irresponsible for far too long. Now it would appear it has become morally bankrupt as well. Barbara Craig abused her position on the board through her employment with United Healthcare. Now she has taken unfair advantage of her board membership to apply for a well paying position with the very system she oversees.

If it is unethical for a member of the Frederick Community College Board of Trustees to apply for a position at FCC while serving on the board, then shouldn’t the same ethical rules apply to members of the Frederick County Board of Education?

You can now remove the clothes pin from your nose.

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