New group advocates school choice Organization wants elected school board

September 04, 1992|By Monica Norton | Monica Norton,Staff Writer

An Annapolis organization billing itself as a school reform group wants county residents to choose who sits on the school boards and which schools their children attend.

"What we need here is local control," said Mark Parenti, executive director of Maryland Save Our Schools Inc. "Our organization is dissatisfied with the current [school] board because it does not address real problems and it does not respond to community concerns. It seems to me the people of Anne Arundel County should be allowed to make their own decisions."

Maryland Save Our Schools Inc. was formed last month to push for an elected school board, Mr. Parenti said.

In a letter released Tuesday, Mr. Parenti wrote, "The people of this county have no say in the ruling of their own schools. The school board nominating convention is a farce. It is really only a private association that can make recommendations. The governor has the sole authority to appoint school board members."

The nominating convention, composed of delegates from church, school and civic groups, votes annually on candidates for the school board. The list of the top two finishers for each seat up for grabs is sent to the governor for his consideration. The governor, however, is not required to choose from the list.

Almost half of the state's counties elect their school boards, including Prince George's and Howard. Nationwide, 93 percent of all school boards are elected, Mr. Parenti said. Having an elected board would make public schools accountable to parents and taxpayers, he added.

"An elected school board member would have to knock on doors, attend community meetings," Mr. Parenti said. "They would get the actual feel of what's going on by talking to parents. They would have to answer real problems that matter to parents.

"This group doesn't have community support because they weren't chosen by the community. They were chosen by politicians. These are the insider's insiders."

Mr. Parenti cited one of the newest board members, Michael Pace, as an "insider's insiders" example. Although Mr. Pace's name was included on the list sent to the governor, he was not the convention's top choice.

"Look at Mr. Pace. He worked for both [former County Executive O. James] Lighthizer and [County Executive Robert R.] Neall," Mr. Parenti said. "These people are not our representatives, but the governor's representatives."

Mr. Parenti said the organization is planning a series of community meetings and a grass roots petition drive to gain support for a locally elected school board. The group is scheduled to hold about eight meetings this month with county community organizations to promote their ideas.

The organization also plans to lobby the state legislature for public school choice in the county.

"This is a way to reform public education," Mr. Parenti said. "There needs to be some way to revitalize the system. The schools would improve because it would promote competition."

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