School Board Nominating Charade

July 07, 1994

For the seventh time in recent years, the Anne Arundel County executive has ignored the recommendations of the county's School Board Nominating Convention, resurrecting the question: Why continue this charade?

The process clearly doesn't work. The governor, who makes the official appointment, doesn't pay attention to the convention because the executive, who tells the governor whom to appoint, doesn't. As a result, the public has lost confidence in the process. Only a fraction of the 1,300 community groups who once sent delegates did so at the May convention.

There, Pasadena's Nancy Schrum was the top-vote getter. But, saying he no longer believes in the convention process, County Executive Robert R. Neall has asked the governor to reappoint former Anne Arundel Community College president Tom Florestano -- who never participated in the convention and who, until last week, said he didn't want to serve a full five-year term. Mr. Florestano is well qualified, but that is not the issue here. The issue is how the county should be selecting school board members.

Two things are clear: The first is that the governor, who knows next to nothing about local school matters, should not be involved. Appointment authority should belong to the county executive.

The second is that a nominating convention has value only to the extent that the executive takes its recommendations seriously. This does not mean the executive should be inescapably bound by the convention, but that he has enough faith in the process to follow it, except in unusual circumstances. It is pointless and unfair to ask volunteers such as Ms. Schrum to go through the ordeal of the convention when odds are the executive will end up looking for a board member elsewhere.

Dissatisfaction with the convention is nothing new. The idea of moving to an elected board crops up regularly and is a popular issue in this year's elections. But elected boards make sense only if they have taxing authority, which they do not in Maryland and aren't likely to get. The best solution in Anne Arundel is to refine the appointment process. That means putting responsibility for choosing school board members in the hands of the person who, for all practical purposes, makes that decision now -- the county executive.

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