Cadden supports a shift to elected school board

May 16, 1994|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Sun Staff Writer

Announcements of support by a state legislator and civic organization last week increased backing for the idea of shifting to an elected school board.

Brooklyn Park Democratic Del. Joan Cadden of District 31 became the proposal's latest supporter Friday. Del. Marsha G. Perry, a District 33 Democrat, already has committed herself to introduce legislation in January, provided she is re-elected.

Support also came from the Anne Arundel County League of Women Voters.

Ms. Cadden, a former school board member, said an election is the only way the public is "really going to have the person they choose represent them."

"There's really no difference in school board members -- elected or appointed. They all do the same job. The problem now is you always have the ability to circumvent the convention," she said of the county's School Board Nominating Convention.

Currently, the convention is the only forum in which the public has a say about who will serve on the board. Most school board candidates agree to a series of interviews. Delegates from community groups then vote, sending the names of the first choice and runner-up to the governor, who has the final say.

"It is an election process already," said Chuck Mosca, the convention committee vice chairman. "The problem is that the governor and executive don't always commit to supporting the delegates' choice. If we had that assurance, there wouldn't be an issue."

The governor has appointed someone other than the delegates' first choice or a person who did not take part in convention interviews four times since 1988.

Carolyn Roeding, president of the Anne Arundel County Council of PTAs, said frustration can be seen in the poor turnout at the convention.

"With 1,328 organizations entitled to attend, only 80 organizations sent delegates this year, and only 162 of those delegates voted," said Mrs. Roeding, whose organization favors an elected board. "That doesn't show much confidence in the current process."

Statistics provided by the league show community group participation has dropped steadily since 1992, when 1,206 community groups were invited, and 126 or 10 percent responded by sending 278 delegates. Last year, 1,328 groups ** were invited; 87 groups, or 6.6 percent, responded and sent 176 delegates. This year 6.2 percent took part.

Board member Maureen Carr-York said public dissatisfaction with the board "is the nature of a representative democracy. People with elected boards are dissatisfied, too."

"I'm not against an elected board, but it's not really going to materially change the situation at all," she said. "If anything it opens the door to problems with the election process. The kind of people who run for elected boards are politically connected people who can raise money. I came out of the PTA, and there's no way I would have run for a countywide election. I wouldn't have known how."

School board President Thomas Twombly said he, too, doubted an elected board would bring the results the league seems to expect.

"The only way an elected board makes sense is if it has fiscal authority [to tax and issue bonds]," Mr. Twombly said. "That's the only way an elected school board would have full accountability to voters."

An elected board that could spend but not raise money would be at the mercy of the County Council and the executive, and a stalemate could result, he said.

"The school board could say, 'We're not doing these new programs because you didn't give us the money,' and the council and executive could say, 'We don't like what you're doing so we're not giving you the money,' " Mr. Twombly said.

SCHOOL BOARDS IN OTHER COUNTIES

E9 How school boards are elected in five other counties:

.. .. .. .. ... .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .Registered

County .. .. .Board size .. .. .Distribution .. ..Votes cast .. ..voters

Carroll .. .. .5 members .. .. .all at-large .. .. ..47,702 .. ...61,821

Charles .. .. .7 members .. .. .all at-large .. .. ..44,948 .. ...74,916

Howard .. ... .5 members .. .. .all at-large .. .. .109,308 .. ..141,851

Montgomery .. .7 members .. .. .5 by district

.. .. .. .. ...plus student .. .2 at-large .. .. ...250,000 .. ..397,869

Prince .. .. ..9 members .. .. .all by district

George's .. ...plus student .. .... ... ... .. .. ...89,406 .. ..302,773

Figures provided by the Anne Arundel County League of Women Voters

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