The residency policy debate
Because a few people have asked, and just because it's Friday, here is a transcript of the debate at Tuesday's Baltimore school board meeting over a policy giving preference to city students in admission to city high schools. As I said in my post the other day, the discussion between Buzzy Hettleman and Andres Alonso got pretty animated. Hettleman was upset that there were last-minute wording changes to the policy that neither the board nor the public had a chance to review before the vote. He wanted feedback from the Legal Aid Bureau, which had specfic concerns about how the policy would impact vulnerable students in transitionary living situations. But when he started grilling a staff member in public, Alonso let him have it. (Hettleman, by the way, is usually one of Alonso's strongest supporters on the board.)
Warning: The following contains bureaucratic language and educational jargon.
(Anirban Basu seconds the motion. It goes to a vote, with four in favor and five opposed. The motion does not carry. Alega Scriber-Penn from the student placement office presents the proposed policy, which gives Baltimore City students preference in admission to citywide high schools. In nonselective schools that use lotteries to determine admissions, noncity residents can only apply for slots that city residents do not fill. Scriber-Penn asks for board questions before the vote.)
Hettleman: Could we have the full policy put on the screen, please?
Scriber-Penn: I’m not sure if they have the entire policy on the PowerPoint.
Hettleman: Well, has the full policy that we’re voting on tonight, has that been made available to the community in any way, shape or form?
Scriber-Penn: It’s been on the policy, the Baltimore City policy review Web site.
Hettleman: Not the revisions, the revisions that we have before us, that we received at 6 o'clock this evening, have not been put on BoardDocs, and the board only received them at 6 o'clock this evening without any explanation. I fully support everything you have introduced as part of this policy. I’ve been for it all along. I think the whole board is for it. But the board set forth a procedure and the procedure is that we have three readers and that there be community input and feedback. We received feedback from various people, in particular the Legal Aid Bureau came here three weeks ago and presented to us detailed, thoughtful comments. As far as I know, some of them were incorporated, some weren’t. The point is, as far as I know, Legal Aid didn’t learn what was being planned and may still not know. I didn’t know and so, while I don’t think anybody disagrees, we have broken faith with the integrity of this three-reader process. It seems clear that when you have three readers that if there are changes between what we had on second reader and what we had on third reader, that those proposed changes should be public. We’re voting on a document that’s not public. And I don’t believe any of us want to do that even though we fully support the policy, and that’s why I sought to get this tabled because I’ve been told that no harm will be done if we approve this in two weeks and then we will have kept faith with the integrity of this process. I’ve sat on this side of the table and when people come and present comments, they have a right to expect that the process will be followed. We did not follow the process.
Scriber-Penn: Well, to the best of my knowledge, the policy review updates that were provided to the Web site and all the comments received from the community stakeholders were forwarded back in an expeditious manner, meaning the responses they received, the Bureau of Legal Aid’s questions that were posed, all of those agencies in addition to parent advocate groups were provided with responses surrounding the policy.
Hettleman: I know how dedicated and able you are, Ms. Scriber-Penn. This is not directed at you but to the integrity of the process. Legal Aid Bureau did not receive a copy of these amendments until possibly, and I don’t even know, until late this afternoon, if they received them at all, so I don’t know what Legal Aid thought about them. The response that was sent to Legal Aid last night at 6 o'clock, they presented these three weeks ago, they were presented with a memo at 6 o'clock last night that did not include the proposed revisions. That’s simply not fair. This board is too sensitive to relationships with the community to not adhere to a process that we’re trying to bring some credibility to.
Scriber-Penn: I think we’re speaking of two different points of references. One point of reference is, the changes, the majority of the changes would be verified in the administrative, CEO administrative regulations. And I think the point to reference that, that’s where the operational procedures and functions will occur. Mr. Hettleman, the changes that you’re referring to, many of the changes in the stated said policy, there were not many changes at all.
Hettleman: I asked you to put them on so everybody could see. Why are we voting on something that people don’t know what we’re voting on? And the board can hardly know because we only received this, maybe you don’t know what’s been put into it at the end.
Brian Morris: This is where we are. The CEO, by way of Ms. Scriber-Penn, is putting forth the recommendation for the residency, non-residency and tuition policy. Commissioner Hettleman, I hear your concerns and knew of your concerns and you have had the opportunity to express your concerns. Those concerns were what prompted you to put forth a motion to table the vote. It did not carry. And so what we have before us is a decision on a recommendation. We have not asked for a vote yet but we will ask for a vote because the motion to table did not carry.
Hettleman: I would urge my colleagues on the board to vote against this third reader at this point. It can always be brought back in two weeks and maintain faith with the community in this process because we set... Look, this policy is fine, but we set a terrible precedent in future in terms of the integrity of the policy developing process.
Morris: Is there a motion in support of the recommendation? Is there a motion in support of the recommendation from the CEO?
(Bob Heck makes a motion. Jim Campbell seconds.)
Campbell: Mr. Chairman, just a point of order. If we do pass this, could we send it to Legal Aid and get their opinion? We could make a change if that was required?
Morris: That is possible. It is our policy.
(The board votes on the policy. Three members are opposed and six are in favor. Policy passes.)
Hettleman (to Scriber-Penn): Before you leave, would you please explain to me what an implementation strategy is? Is that a policy? Is that a regulation? What is it? What is it that we passed? Because you spoke to administrative regulations, but everything that you said was going to be in administrative regulation is in this policy as an implementation strategy.
Morris: What I’m gonna ask Commissioner Hettleman is, for the purposes of the discussion, if you could forward your questions to Dr. Alonso, so that we don’t put Ms. Scriber-Penn in an unfavorable position.
Hettleman: Well then, Dr. Alonso could answer the question right now. I’d like to email it to him. I’d appreciate if he would answer the question.
Alonso: Would you rephrase the question?
Hettleman: This policy that we passed, that personally no one has seen, contains detailed implementation strategies. Now, are those, in your memo last night you referred to administrative regulations. What are these implementation strategies? Are they policy? Are they administrative regulations or are they something new that somebody figured out we would call implementation strategies, whatever that means, which also sets a bad precedent?
Alonso: Well, two comments before I answer your question. The first comment is that the policy was posted in two separate readers. The public was given the opportunity to respond with comments to the twice posting of the policy. One group, Legal Aid, responded, among many, responded with comments on the policy. We sought to address the comments as we sought to incorporate much of the feedback that came from other groups. There is absolutely no legal or process requirement that requires that before we post the policy for the third time, we need to have personal conversation with any group or we need to have any group approve that third iteration of the policy. That is for the board to decide, whether the third iteration of the policy meets the standards of the board. There is a requirement that is being created on the go that is in no way a part of any board regulation or policy that I have seen, and I invite other board members to corroborate what I just stated. So there’s a standard being created that is problematic because until Monday, yesterday, we were fielding comments from the public that we were trying to respond to. So at which point does the clock stop? Does it stop at 5 o'clock in the afternoon in Monday, on Monday, in which case we might not have been able to put things on paper that are a part of the policy? Does it stop at 6 o'clock? We waited for as long as possible partly because it is the gist of the policy that ultimately matters to the CEO. The gist of the policy is that no qualified Baltimore City resident should be denied entrance to a Baltimore City citywide high school when that citywide resident meets the requirements for that high school. That’s the gist of it. That’s what matters to me. That is what I put in front of the public and I believe that it’s been an injustice that that hasn’t been remedied in the past. I commend this board for having passed the policy in the past few minutes. I truly commend because the board has understood that this has to happen and, quite frankly, it better happen now rather than later because we want to give people notice of whether they’ve gotten into the citywides or not as quickly as possible. Otherwise, they go look for other placements, elsewhere.
Hettleman: As you know...
Alonso: Can I finish, Mr. Hettleman? So, that being the point, you have just introduced into the discussion the question of what is policy and what is regulation, which as you know we’ve been debating over for the past seven months. I consider it to be problematic in the context of this discussion. It is something that we should be discussing in executive board meeting or in a public meeting where we are discussing the question of what should be policy and what should be regulation. But quite frankly, what I’m hearing you now state is dissatisfaction with the outcome of a vote, which is putting an unfair burden on staff, which I consider to be unacceptable. The policy that was put in terms of the board is fundamentally the same policy that has gone to us on different occasions. If the board has concerns with the final language in that policy, it can always come back to the CEO or come back to the discussion and ask that particular pieces be changed. In the meantime, quite frankly, Mr. Hettleman, we’re wasting our time.
Hettleman: If I may, as you know, as Dr. Alonso and members of the board know, we were led to believe that a two-week delay would not jeopardize anything. And you’re quite right, Dr. Alonso. First of all, as I’ve made clear every time, I support this policy 100 percent. The problem is that we may have set a precedent for future policy development and approval, which means that where we don’t have unanimity behind the thrust of the policy, that in the future, we may be voting on other policies that are debatable where we don’t know what we’re voting on and I don’t think you’d really, that that supports the integrity of this process.
Morris: Commissioner Heck?
Heck: I respectfully disagree with you, Commissioner Hettleman, and I’ll just leave it at that.
Morris: Further comments?
Neil Duke: I believe we’ve had a motion that’s been carried right now and additional argument we have at this point is probably superfluous. I would suggest we move on and carry forth. Any other discussion or debate we have would probably be addressed internally at this point regarding the mechanics of how we go forward in the future, as far as public notification and how to deal with public input.