Women voters group backs elected school board

May 13, 1994|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Sun Staff Writer

The Anne Arundel County League of Women Voters endorsed the idea of an elected school board last night, and at the same time won a commitment from a state delegate to introduce such legislation in January.

Del. Marsha G. Perry, a District 33 Democrat, said she has always supported the idea of an elected school board rather than an appointed one.

"I'm going to introduce a bill," Ms. Perry said after a two-hour meeting at the Eastport Yacht Club in the Watergate Village Apartments in Annapolis. "I've tried it before, but it didn't have support among the other delegates. I'm convinced it's time to try again."

League members who attended the meeting said they had no doubt that it was time to change the system and to allow the public more of a chance to participate in the selection of the school board members.

"When something is not working, what has improved the situation is change," said Terry Berg. "I think we've reached that point."

In reaching consensus on the issue, league members decided that board members should be elected in nonpartisan elections held in conjunction with general elections every four years.

They haven't agreed on whether the candidates should participate in a primary to narrow the field or whether board members should be elected from councilmanic or legislative districts. Those issues will be worked out later at another meeting and eventually will be put into draft legislation, said Carol Surlis, who moderated the discussion.

The league began studying the issue a year ago in response to growing criticism of the current board members and concerns that the current selection process doesn't allow much room for public comment.

The governor now appoints Anne Arundel school board members with the advice of the county executive. Some public participation is allowed in the form of a School Board Nominating Convention, in which nonprofit, nonpartisan community organizations send delegates who question the candidates. The delegates then vote and present the names of the top vote-getter and the runner-up to the executive and governor.

The problem is that the governor hasn't always accepted the convention's choice. In 1988 and 1989, the governor chose someone who had not participated in the convention. And in 1990 and 1992, when two seats were open at once, only one of the two seats each year was filled with the convention choice.

If the Perry bill becomes law, Anne Arundel will become the 11th school district in Maryland to have an elected board.

Thirteen districts, including Anne Arundel, have boards appointed by the governor. In Baltimore, the board is appointed by the mayor.

Joan Urbas, chairwoman of the league committee that studied the issue, said last night that the issue of democracy also was important in deciding between an elected board and an appointed one.

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