Consensus sought on school board selection process

May 12, 1994|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Sun Staff Writer

The Anne Arundel County League of Women Voters spent a year studying whether the local school board should be appointed or elected, and tonight will reveal the results of that study.

Joan Urbas, league chairwoman, wouldn't hint at what the study found, but said the meeting at 7 p.m. today at the Eastport Yacht Club in Building 680 of the Watergate Village Apartments in Annapolis is designed to reach consensus on the issue.

"I wanted to study the issue because I realized that with the current process, only a few people become knowledgeable about the candidates for the school board," Mrs. Urbas said.

Mrs. Urbas became interested in the school board selection after moving to Anne Arundel County from New York. She served first on the Elizabeth's Landing Community Association and later was a delegate to the Anne Arundel County School Board Nominating Convention. From 1990 to 1993, she served on the committee that conducts the convention.

The convention has become a traditional way for the public to participate in the appointment of a school board member -- even though the selection is up to the governor.

But the public is not as involved as it could be, Mrs. Urbas said. And the process does not guarantee the convention's choice will be the next board member.

Last year, for example, the convention committee sent 1,318 mailings. Only 250 people responded, and of those, only 171 stayed to vote, she said.

"That's such a small percentage," Mrs. Urbas said. "And when the school budget is 58 percent of the county's budget and the county has about 450,000 residents, and then the governor doesn't always take the convention choice, well, it becomes more frustrating."

Under the system, community groups register for the convention and select delegates to represent them. Most school board candidates register with the convention committee and agree to three nights of interviews with delegates in a public forum. After the third session, the delegates vote, and the names of the top vote-getter and runner-up are sent to the county executive and the governor.

The executive and governor, however, don't always agree with the convention's choice. Last year, they did, and appointed Carlissa Finney. But in previous years, the runner-up or someone who didn't participate in the convention was named.

Ten Maryland jurisdictions have elected school boards; the remaining 13, including Anne Arundel, have appointed boards.

Some groups, such as the Anne Arundel County Council of PTAs, favor an elected school board.

"I think we need an elected school board, especially given the board's lack of responsiveness," said Carolyn Roeding, council president.

She complained that the board did not do enough to quiet parents' fears during a year in which four teachers were charged with sexually abusing students. Dissatisfied parents have no recourse if board members ignore them.

"Even though the appointed board members usually go through the convention process, you still do not have any accountability," Mrs. Roeding said. "There's no recall.

"At least if they were elected, the voters could choose not to elect them the next time."

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