Declining membership and a lack of vision has the Board of Education rethinking its plan for one of its committees.
The board is reviewing the mission of the Frederick County Citizens Advisory Council (CAC), a committee tasked with studying education issues such as year-round school and school start times, in an effort to improve the functioning of the council.
“When we instituted [the CAC] two years ago, it was really something that we had hoped the board could rely on in terms of gathering community feedback on very specific issues ... in a much deeper way than a survey or email,” school board Vice President Joy Schaefer said.
According to the council bylaws, the CAC “reports directly to the Board and serves as a channel for public concerns, advice and information as identified by the Board. The CAC may also respond to specific requests for research at the direction of the majority of the Board, and make recommendations on specific topics impacting educational decisions and programs in Frederick County.”
In late 2017 and 2018, the advisory council studied school start times and eventually recommended the school board push back start times at the high school level. The council recommended the district start with a pilot in the Walkersville feeder pattern. The change, however, would have cost the district millions in transportation costs.
The council also explored implementing year-round school, or an extended schedule, though it never made a recommendation on the subject to the board.
The council has struggled to retain members or focus on tasks assigned to it by the Board of Education.
Schaefer said the vision and defined purpose of the CAC needs to be re-examined. The council, she said, has worked hard over the past two years on charges the board has given them but hasn’t been as active as originally hoped and has suffered from lack of membership.
Kyle Bostian and Edison Hatter were involved in the discussion. Bostian and Hatter are the chairman and secretary of the CAC, respectively.
Hatter said one of the biggest issues they face is people misunderstanding what the CAC is.
“The way it’s described, as what the committee is supposed to do, is misleading to a lot of people,” Hatter said. “People join and think they can give whatever feedback they want or just don’t understand the structure of the committee and how it works.”
Bostian agreed, saying many parents or other community members join the council hoping to advance an agenda and don’t understand that the council is directed, for the most part, by the school board.
“I think the number one driver of poor membership is that we had a lot of members that showed up to our first meeting. ... And then, once we start talking about the charge and what we’ve been asked to do and the way the structure works, we had a lot of people kind of protest or say ‘well, I was interested in X, Y or Z,’” Bostian said. “We had a lot of single-issue people.”
Bostian said the council had about 20 to 25 members when it was implemented two years ago, but since then it has dropped to around five.
Schaefer said she had envisioned a CAC that meets regularly, filled with people from around the county who had many contacts and could generate lots of feedback. She suggested changing the model of representation on the council, as according to Schaefer, the CAC for Carroll County has almost 40 members — one person from each school.
This brings geographic and grade-level diversity to the council, Schaefer said. School board member Karen Yoho suggested having at least one member from each feeder pattern in order to achieve geographic diversity.
Board President Brad Young then pointed out that although high representation is ideal, that representation also needs to be maintained.
“It would be great to have someone from every school come and participate, but then it’s also a matter of keeping them engaged and focused,” Young said.
This brought the discussion back to the main purpose of the CAC and what its objective should be.
“It seems that this should be a proactive committee rather than a reactive committee,” board member Jay Mason said. “Trying to get out in front of issues ... it seems like [the CAC] should be able to go out to citizens and gather information.”
Young said he envisions the council’s purpose as twofold: (1) gathering community feedback on issues the board is interested in, and (2) bringing the board’s attention to matters the community is concerned about.
The board agreed that gathering public input should remain a major focus of the council going forward but that the definition and structure of the CAC may need to change.
The discussion ended with the board, Bostian and Hatter agreeing to work to implement needed changes for the CAC. It is unclear what those changes will be and when they will take effect.