Lots to comment on
Last night's city school board meeting felt like one long session in public comment. There wasn't much on the agenda besides public comment, which turned out to be a very good thing given all the problems presented to the board and the attempts to solve them on the spot.
The meeting started with a moving introduction by the new student board member (Renaissance Academy senior Mitchell S. Generette, who talked about his brother being shot in their backyard in describing his desire to make a difference for the city) and a nice presentation by Baltimore Freedom Academy students about their service learning internships (including one in Dr. Alonso's office). Then the complaints began. And the three-minute time limit for an individual comment was out the window.
Jimmy Gittings, president of PSASA, complained during his time at the microphone about low morale among administrators and charged that the system is violating administrators' contract in numerous areas. (He didn't specifiy what the violations are.) He announced that the union has found the money to keep him on as president, up until now an unpaid position, after his retirement from the school system in December.
During the general comment portion, a mother from Rosemont Elementary/Middle complained about the terrible ventilation in the building, which she said hasn't been upgraded since it was constructed in the 1970s. Students are roasting in the spring, summer and fall, and they freeze during the winter. Lucky coincidence, Alonso and board chair Brian Morris said, Rosemont is No. 1 on the system's priority list for state renovation money.
The PTA president at Northeast Middle detailed her five-year struggle to get a library for the school and her frustration over the school losing a grant for security cameras. She brought with her to the microphone the colorful parent activist James Williams, who she said was serving as her spiritual adviser. Williams, who has become known for his use of props during public comment, had signed up to speak about another matter. But after he and the Northeast mother had been at the microphone nearly a half hour, during which time Alonso pledged to get the school a library by fall 2009, Morris told Williams he'd need to make his other comments next time. This did not go over well. And we never found out what Williams was planning to do with the tennis racket case he was carrying with him.
Three speakers in a row were cut off by Morris as they tried to describe problems with the regulations requiring a certain percentage of subcontracted work to go to minority and female business owners. The third persisted in making the case that the prime contractors are sending work out of state that's supposed to be going to local minorities and women. She thanked the school system for keeping good meeting minutes, which she said are useful in documenting the fraud she alleges is occurring.
One mother came in frustration that the system is taking too long to find an appropriate placement for her son, who has been in limbo for the past two years after getting kicked out of a citywide high school and is on the verge of dropping out his senior year. Alonso seemed frustrated because he's only known about the boy's situation for the past two weeks, and he has members of his cabinet working on it. What more does the mother want?
Yet another mother said she's effectively being punished for sending her son to school academically prepared. Now in first grade, the boy is bored with all the remedial work his classmates need and has started developing behavior problems.
At the end of the meeting, Alonso provided an update on the effort to get dropouts back in school. He was standing in for Jonathan Brice, the administrator who was supposed to do the presentation but instead was out in the hall talking to the mother who said her son wants to leave school. The number of dropouts who have re-enrolled since the "Great Kids, Come Back" campaign began last month is up to 235.