• Blaming It Upstream: The Nullification Of Elected School Boards

    January 22, 2024
    1 Comment

    It happened during the ridiculous Covid lockdowns, mask mandates and push to vaccinate children against an illness most had little chance of suffering.

    It's called "Blaming it Upstream" and it was used to give cover to local councils and school boards for the ridiculous and tyrannical rules they placed on the public, particularly schools and their students. "Blaming it Upstream" is the equivalent to a government employee saying " I was just following orders" when they complete an absolutely moronic and destructive act.

    These elected councils and boards were elected to represent the people, but when push comes to shove, they have revealed themselves to care more about their state and national bosses and money.

    Wednesday night, the Talbot County School Board reviewed their FY 25 budget which will increase their funding request to almost $80 million dollars. Approximately three quarters of this request will be funded by local dollars, costing the county around $8 million more than last year. This increase in funding can only be accomplished by raising property taxes this year even though they were already increased last year.

    Knowing how unpopular these increases would be, the Board started planning strategy to take the bullseye of blame off of them and tell people that it's the state's fault. In fact, Superintendent Pepukayi will be enlisting "ambassadors" to go out into the community with one-page summaries that will dispel the "rumors and incorrect info" about the Blueprint. She didn't elaborate what those rumors and incorrect info are, but one can imagine ambassadors will give a glowing justification for the spending required by the legislation.

    Based on statements from the Board of Education members, it seems that this one pager may tell the public that the Board of Education isn't asking for all this money, the State is mandating it, thus absolving the Board of any responsibility.

    School Board President Jackson asked the school system's financial officer if there was a way to show which budget requests are strictly mandated by the Blueprint and which are strictly local. Unfortunately, the Blueprint is so enmeshed in the budget it is almost impossible to do except for some new staff positions which are completely tied to the legislation. Clever design by the State.

    She then followed up her request with the acknowledgement that the budget is "a big ask" but also stated that "we must implement Blueprint with fidelity so it will work." Board Vice President Candace Henry followed that up with the comment that "we can tell the story to the public so they can see the positive impact." It's only positive if you are not a citizen facing huge property tax increases during a time when inflation is sky high and people are living paycheck to paycheck.

    It's understandable that they don't want to be held accountable for this mess.

    But they are playing both sides to the middle. One on hand, the Board doesn't want to be blamed for this. On the other, they want to support the Blueprint for all the "good" it will do. Which is it? And, as a side note, exactly what is the "good" of these grossly invasive initiatives? The Blueprint is a continuation of the expensive Kirwan Legislation which, in the years since it has been implemented, has not increased student academic achievement one iota. The only difference is that the Blueprint spending makes previous Kirwan spending seem like chump change.

    As recently as last year, this same school board was bemoaning the fact that many successful local programs would have to be cut for unproven and possibly ineffective Blueprint mandates. They were demanding more local control. Jackson told me that she chastised the state for creating a "one size fits all program."

    What happened?

    As it usually does with public entities, money is the biggest of the deciding factors. Maryland has successfully hammered home the message that locals will either do what the state says or suffer the monetary consequences of reduced funding from the state.

    This is a clear case of extortion and nullification of local officials. The State holds the purse strings over the heads of the Boards. The Boards fold under the pressure and nullify any local power they may have maintained. After all, they don't think they can possibly run their school system without massive State and Federal funding.

    A good example of how the government has lured the systems into the trap of becoming addicted to extensive state and federal funding is the recent initiation of all kinds of county programs and positions through the Covid funds granted during the pandemic. Now, the Covid money is gone and many of the positions and programs it supported are going with it, either to be totally eliminated or replaced by something new and different under the Blueprint.

    One can see how local boards and Superintendents are standing patiently by waiting for their state handout, even if it means they lose control over the systems they direct. In a way, they are right. They are not completely at fault.

    The question is, when all the funding and programs are state mandated and even local policies will no longer need to be voted on, is there a point to an elected (or any) school board at all?

    Maybe all we really need is someone to keep the books and make sure money goes where it is mandated. Maybe we could appoint a local "Blueprint Czar" who could monitor expenditures and initiatives and send in quarterly reports. It would save everyone a lot of time and money.

    I understand the dilemma the Board of Education is in. Do they take the money and give up control or do they fight against the Blueprint and get a huge monetary slap down from the State?

    Many systems like Howard County will bite the bullet on funding but will have to cut the jobs of 348 school system personnel. This is one way to fund this monstrosity.

    Howard County schools need an extra $103.8 million for next year’s budget - The Baltimore Banner

    Others with political clout will push back and HAVE pushed back. Unfortunately for small counties, their political capital is too small to earn much grace with the State. But, as the second article linked below proposed, maybe it's time for them to say "no."

    Do they have the courage and creativity to do this and find ways to work around the "punishment" they will earn? Time will tell.

    Local Governments Are Pushing Back Against Excessive Tax Hikes To Support Maryland Blueprint - Easton Gazette

    Gov. Moore Warns Of Coming Financial Discipline In Maryland. Should Counties Say "No" To The Blueprint? - Easton Gazette

    However, I wouldn't count on it.

    Want to take a stand? This year, run for your local school board. In Talbot County, Districts 2,5, and 6 are up for election. If you want to file, February 9th is the deadline. School board races are NON PARTISAN.

    Board of Elections - Talbot County, Maryland (talbotcountymd.gov)

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    Author

    Jan Greenhawk

    Jan Greenhawk is a former teacher and school administrator for over thirty years. She has two grown children and lives with her husband in Maryland. She also spent over twenty-five years coaching/judging gymnastics and coaching women’s softball.
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    Margaret Fisher

    I am astonished at the size of the budget for a county this size, delivering such meager results

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