Cumberland Times-News

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May 25, 2013

Teachers slam McKay on letter remark

Not a threat on commissioner’s children: ACTA

CUMBERLAND — CUMBERLAND — Teachers and a Board of Education member are challenging County Commissioner Michael McKay’s characterization of a letter he received from a teacher as an attack on his family.

The letter has now been posted on the Allegany County Teachers’ Association’s Facebook page. While the letter does mention McKay’s children, it contains no language representing a threat or attack on his family, teacher’s representatives said.

“I find it interesting that you, Mr. McKay, have chosen to send your children to private school. Would you mind explaining to the citizens and teachers of Allegany County exactly why you have made that choice?” reads the only portion of the letter regarding McKay’s family.

The writer then continued with a series of questions: “Are public schools not safe? Is public education not good enough? Class sizes too large? Technology not cutting-edge? Materials outdated? It seems like you, sir, have helped to make that choice for us.” The rest of the letter addressed issues about a county schools’ budget request.

“Commissioner McKay has claimed that a teacher emailed him and personally attacked him and his family. This is simply not the case. We ask that viewers of this page read the email sent by that teacher ... and decide for yourselves. ACTA feels the questions asked are not in any way illegitimate,” reads a statement from ACTA.

ACTA representative Evan West said he wanted the statement on the Facebook page to stand for his and the organization’s comment on the matter.

Board member Mike Llewellyn was more disturbed by McKay’s reaction than with the contents of the letter.

“What’s troubling here is I don’t know if his reaction was an appropriate response to that email,” Llewellyn said.

“People have a right to criticize government ... it seems to me this was an attempt to chill free speech,” he said.

Llewellyn said he would have preferred the teacher had not brought any mention of McKay’s family into the letter. “Where his kids go to school, I don’t think that’s for public consumption,” he said. “It’s a private decision.”

During the work session, McKay also referred to the board as sitting in an “ivory tower,” and unconcerned with other entities seeking county funds. Llewellyn also took issue with that statement.

The board is required by law to submit a budget, it is a process that should not become personal, Llewellyn said. The board is required by law to advocate for education. “It’s our community deciding where to put resources,” he said.

“I really think he owes an apology to that teacher ... the Board of Education, and the public,” Llewellyn said.

During a May 16 work session, McKay said he was outraged by the letter. “I’m done,” he said. “It’s personal.”

McKay then launched into a list of grievances against teachers unions and the county board of education during a budget discussion at the work session.

The letter primarily addressed the issues of school security and budget. “As a citizen of Allegany County and an employee of ACPS, I have been following your actions regarding the safety of our public schools and funding for public education very closely. I must say, I have been deeply disappointed by your recent statements and inactions on both of these topics,” the letter read.

McKay said Friday he has emailed the teacher who wrote the letter and they have reached an understanding. “We have buried the hatchet,” McKay said. McKay said he apologized during the work session. “I probably overreacted,” he said.

McKay said the teacher told him the letter was not in any way meant as an attack.

None of the parties involved wished to release the teacher’s name for publication. However, both ACTA and the commissioner verified the contents of the letter were what McKay excoriated at the work session.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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