Because local funding now makes up more than half the county school budget, state Sen. Habern W. Freeman Jr. believes Harford school board members should be chosen locally instead of being appointed by the governor.
"It's time to shift the appointment process to the locallevel to reflect that change," he said. His bill calls for three board members to be elected countywide and six to be appointed by the county executive.
The county's parent-teacher associations opposed the legislation at a hearing Wednesday, arguing that members of the board appointed by the governor already go through a rigorous local nominating process.
"The situation works well as it is now," said David Petr, legislative vice president of the county PTA Council. The permanent nominating caucus, which is open to all community groups, evaluates candidates for formal appointment by the governor, with the names passing through Harford's state senators, he noted.
Elections and county executive appointments "would create more partisan politics and would notbenefit the system," he testified before the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee in Annapolis.
The bill was not sponsored by other members of the county legislative delegation. Neither County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann nor the Harford school board took astand on the bill.
The County Council was deadlocked, 3-3, last month on a resolution to oppose the legislation.
Ten of the 24 school boards in Maryland have locally elected members. Of the others, 13are appointed by the governor, with local input, and Baltimore City's board is appointed by the mayor. No board has a mix of elected and appointed members, as the Freeman bill proposes.
A bill to switch Caroline County to an elected board is also before the General Assembly this year.
The seven members of the Harford school board serve for staggered five-year terms, with a two-term limit.
One of thosemembers, Percy V. Williams, said that either elected or appointed boards could serve the community's education needs. But he said the political demands on elected members could compromise the best interestsof the pupils. He attended Wednesday's hearing but did not testify.
Freeman, a former two-term county executive, said the unique mixture of elected and appointed board members in his legislation would allow for a difference of views and philosophies on the board. Some members would be directly responsible to the electorate, others would bechosen for their expertise and background.
The six appointed members would represent each councilmanic district, under the measure.
"We need to restore taxpayer control" of the local schools, said theJoppatowne Democrat, noting that Harford provides 55 percent of its operating budget today. In the wake of federal and state spending cutbacks, which have increased the percentage of county funding, the Board of Education should be directly selected by local residents, he said.
Freeman has introduced two other local bills to restrict the County Council's power to increase the school budget presented by the county executive. The council now has the right to restore money cut by the executive from the school board budget.