Baltimore businessman Earnest Hines has been elected the new president of the Board of Education for Baltimore County Public Schools following the retirement of three-term president JoAnn Murphy.

Currently serving his third year on the board, Hines was appointed unanimously by the 11 other board members in August. As president and CEO of EEH Holdings LLC and a partner in HK&S Holdings, Hines brings 30 years of experience in insurance and business development to the table and believes his business acumen will serve him well.

“With his executive level business experience, he brings a broad perspective of the needs of students as they prepare to compete in the global economy. Baltimore County Public Schools has been fortunate to have had a history of strong leadership from its Boards of Education,” said county schools Superintendent Dr. Joseph Hairston. “Mr. Hines continues that tradition of strong leadership. His dedication to our students is unwavering, and I look forward to working with him.”

The father of four has also served on the boards of the Greater Baltimore Economic Alliance and Howard University School of Insurance.

In an e-mail to the AFRO, Cheryl Bost, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, expressed a similar sentiment as the superintendent. “We’re looking forward to working with Mr. Hines as the new school board president and hope to have a more collaborative working relationship with the Board of Education and Superintendent under his leadership,” stated Bost.

Hines calls his new leadership role “a challenge and a blessing at the same time.” He will oversee a $1.4 billion operating budget that was adopted by the County Council in May.

Challenges will come as the adopted budget for fiscal year 2011 indicates an 11 percent decrease in funds brought on by ongoing economic difficulties nationwide. Hines notes that “BCPS is not in crisis mode as others are.”

“We only have ‘X’ amount of funds to accomplish our goals and there are certain things that are just not optional. We have 174 schools that need to be maintained, about 1000 buses that need maintenance and drivers for those buses, and a fuel budget that we must manage and watch very carefully,” he said.

Blessings include Maryland’s recent win in the national Race to the Top competition for federal funding of education initiatives and Maryland public schools being ranked among the best in the nation. Hines said he plans to maintain a good balance on the school board, where “all equals all,” so that every child in Baltimore County will have equal access to the best public education.

“In 1992, minorities accounted for 24 percent of the population of Baltimore County,” he said. “Today those numbers have risen to 54 percent. This is an ever changing environment and we must recognize and adjust to those changes.”

One area that Hines has set in his crosshairs is the academic performance and graduation rates of African-American males. “Nationally only 50 percent of our Black males graduate high school and there has been little or no improvement in this number,” said Hines. “Trends show that without a concerted effort this will not change. Here in Baltimore County a real effort has been under way to change this phenomenon.”

He is not far off the mark. The latest statistics compiled by the Schott Foundation for Public Education confirms the businessman and educator’s dismal report. The foundation reports that for the 2007-2008 school year, only 47 percent of Black males graduated high school nationwide.

Overall, Maryland fared better than the national average, but Baltimore County surpassed both with a 67 percent graduation rate for Black males. Furthermore, the achievement gap between Black and White males in the county stands at one of the nation’s lowest at 7 percent, according to the report.

While the numerical outlook for Baltimore County paints a brighter picture than most districts like Baltimore City, the situation is still dire. Hines said he wants to find and install more Black male teachers and advisors, as nationally only about 2 percent of teachers are Black males. “We recognize that in many situations they may have low personal esteem and troubled living environments,” he said. “But we have highly qualified principals and teachers committed to and sensitive to assisting these young men.”