Elect city school board? Suggestion draws fire Councilman wants more accountability

January 23, 1993|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

Angered by a plan to redraw Baltimore's school districts, city Councilman Timothy D. Murphy is calling for school board members to be elected, instead of appointed by the mayor, as they are now.

But opponents of the 6th District Democrat's proposed charter amendment say it could further politicize the city school system, and they reject claims that the current board is alienated from the public.

Mr. Murphy argues that an elected board would be more responsive to the public, citing the current furor over school rezoning. Parents have blasted the proposal to close nine schools, change the boundaries of 57 others and eliminate the popular kindergarten-through-eighth-grade schools.

The school board is still conducting public forums on rezoning. But an elected board, however, "would have abandoned this plan in its entirety right now," said Mr. Murphy.

"We seem to have lost the basic understanding of fifth-grade social studies, which is that governmental entities, including the school board, are the creatures of the citizenry," he said.

Mr. Murphy's amendment, which he plans to introduce at the council session Monday, would create an elected board with four-year terms, to run concurrently with the terms of the mayor and City Council members. If passed by the City Council, it would be subject to approval by voters in the 1994 election.

Last year, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke introduced legislation that would let voters elect six members of the board.

Currently, the nine-member Baltimore board is appointed by the mayor. By law, the body appoints the superintendent and sets school policy, although as a practical matter, it does so at the direction of the mayor.

Mr. Murphy conceded that he has "not favored an elected school board in the past," but changed his mind in recent weeks in the face of public opposition to the rezoning proposal.

Council President Clarke, meanwhile, said she is inclined to support his proposal.

"Education has to be accountable to the people," she said. "If that's 'politicizing' the process, maybe it's a healthy turn of events."

Phillip H. Farfel, president of the school board, rejected claims that the board is unresponsive. The board is using the forums to gauge public opinion on the rezoning plan, and won't vote until April, after all the comments have been studied, he said.

Dr. Farfel said the current system lets members concentrate on instruction "and not have to worry about raising money for campaigns."

Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the state Board of Education and a former president of the city school board, called election of the school board "a very bad idea."

"It parochializes educational concerns," he said. "People represent districts, and very few people vote in school board elections. It tends to be very heavily influenced by groups like teachers unions."

Fewer than one in five of the nation's 16,000 school districts have appointed boards, according to the National School Board Association; the rest have elected boards.

Meanwhile, the city's Charter Revision Commission is looking at a variety of proposals, including one from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke that would make the board an advisory body.

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