School board vote proposed Play brings calls for new members

December 20, 1992|By Carol L. Bowers and Sherrie Ruhl | Carol L. Bowers and Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writers

Claiming Harford's school board is out of touch, some civic and community leaders have called for a school board election or other alternative selection process.

County Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson suggested the school board should be elected because the appointed board continues to support a controversial sex education drama shown in high schools despite what he called widespread opposition to the play.

"The Board of Education is so insulated, they're out of touch with many different, significant groups in the county," Mr. Wilson said. "If they alienate significant groups in the county, they are ultimately cutting their own throats."

His comments came amid controversy over whether the Board of Education should halt performances of the play, "Secrets," which has triggered objections from Mr. Wilson and some community groups.

Nancy Jacobs, a Joppatowne resident and the Maryland representative of a conservative political group, Concerned Women of America, said her encounters with the board over the play prompted her to urge consideration of an elected school board.

"I think what parents would like to see is a school board that is responsive to parent's opinions and views. And it's a shame that it could take an an elected school board to get their views represented," said Mrs. Jacobs. "With an appointed school board, it's hard to tell who they are trying to represent. You can't vote them out if you don't like what they are doing."

State Sen. Habern W. Freeman, D-District 34, has also advocated a change in the way school board members are selected in Harford, though he said he has changed his mind about the idea of electing school board members.

"I talked to some people who have an elected school board who said members use it as a springboard for other offices," said Mr. Freeman. "That could be a real problem."

Ten of Maryland's 23 counties have elected school boards.

Instead, Mr. Freeman wants to have a permanent nominating caucus submit its nominations for school board representatives to a seven-member committee.

The committee -- made up of representatives from seven groups including the council, the Harford County Farm Bureau, the county teachers union and other groups -- would then make the final appointments.

School board members and teachers scorned the alternative selection suggestions, saying elections may do more harm than good.

"No one can say [elected boards] are any more effective than appointed boards," said George Lisby, one of seven Harford school board members. "In elected school boards, each member is groping for what he can do for his section of the county in order to get elected again."

Ronald Eaton, another board member, warned that "an elected school board would do exactly what special interest groups want, and there would be no consistency in education."

Jean R. Thomas, president of the Harford County Education Association, also objected to the idea of elections, saying the union would have to interview and endorse candidates for the school board as it does during an election.

In Harford, the appointment process begins when the county's Permanent Nominating Caucus reviews applications for school board vacancies. The caucus, which this year included representatives of more than 80 groups, from churches to Parent-Teachers Association, votes on its top two recommendations for each vacant seat on the seven-member board, and then sends the names to the governor. School board terms are for five years, and two terms are allowed.

Dee Schuette, co-chairwoman of the caucus, said that in 32 years, the governor has almost always appointed the caucus' first choice. Twice, when the governor rejected the caucus' first choice, its second choice was selected, she said.

But Mrs. Schuette, who cautioned that she was speaking for herself and not the caucus, said an elected board would be a mistake.

"The costs of running for office are so prohibitive that I worry that those who would run for office would have higher political aspirations," she said. "I would hate the school board to become a stepping stone for those seeking a higher political office."

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