As Perry Hall residents prepare for the close-at-hand 2011-2012 school year, a positive change has occurred at the most recent meeting of the Baltimore County Board of Education. To their credit, school board members responded to public criticism by making some much-needed revisions to the school facilities use policy, commonly referred to as Policy 1300.
This community-focused action stands in stark contrast to many other decisions from school system leadership over the past year or so. Just over one year ago, Baltimore County Public Schools senior administrators suddenly opted to utilize an extremely rigid interpretation of the old Policy 1300, which resulted in denial of use for many community groups—including some PTA-sponsored activities, as well as other events like the Perry Hall/White Marsh Town Fair.
As I noted in an article last February, schools represent an important part of the communities that they serve. This is why the imposition of new restrictions that prevented community festivals, craft fairs and even PTA activities that had profit-making components (even though the profits supported the schools themselves) was so troubling.
Revisions to the policy, adopted by the Board of Education on Aug. 9, strike the appropriate balance between the preservation of school facilities for their primary purpose, educating our youth, while also allowing the sites to serve as welcoming sites for community-building. Indeed, the opening statement of the new policy couldn't be better.
It states that BCPS and its governing board "recognize that school facilities are an essential component of the communities which they serve." Moreover, "the use of BCPS facilities should only be prohibited when such use interferes with the efficient administration of the educational program." It seems that BCPS officials do value their connectivity to surrounding neighborhoods.
The complete text of the new policy can be found here.
The specific mechanics of the new policy represent positive progress. It includes the following components:
- A priority order of potential users, to be used if scheduling conflicts occur. Sensibly, this approach allows for PTA activities to receive priority in the event of such conflicts.
- Provisions to clarify that requesting groups can use school-buildings for craft fairs and other similar fundraising events.
- A new, streamlined application and appeals process.
- New opportunities that allow for-profit groups to use school facilities.
- An allowance for meetings of 50 or fewer persons to have insurance requirements and fees for use waived.
- A use-of-school-facilities rate schedule.
Now there is no reason why events like the Perry Hall/White Marsh Town Fair cannot take place in or on school grounds. I can think of nothing better than the return of our fair to Perry Hall High School, where it was so successful for so many years.
As someone who has pointed out some of the short-sighted decisions coming from BCPS leadership, I would be remiss if I didn't offer my sincere appreciation for this decision. Perhaps the infusion of a few new board members might lead to better future governance. I would strongly encourage the school board to use their thoughtful handling of the revisions to Policy 1300 as a template for future decisions.