School Convention's Slow Death

April 20, 1995

Anne Arundel's legislative delegation failed to put the county's school board nominating convention out of its misery, so the process of selecting school board members continues to hobble along.

After extending the deadline for applications, the convention committee has managed to scrape together seven candidates for two board vacancies. But public interest is lagging. So far, only 45 of the more than 900 groups eligible to send delegates to the convention -- about 5 percent -- have bothered to register representatives. Fewer than 20 people showed up for the first candidate's forum last week.

The county's delegation should have put a merciful end to this lTC charade during the recent General Assembly session. Alas, it didn't. The delegates considered five alternatives to the nominating convention, including an elected board, a commission that would recommend candidates to the governor and bills that would have given the county executive the authority to appoint the board. The delegates opted for the 13-member commission, but the county's senators defeated the measure and decided instead to study the issue this summer.

Although some senators would like to believe that the nominating convention remains viable, the abysmal turnout at the candidate's meeting shows again that the public has lost faith in the process. Little wonder. The governor has ignored the recommendations of the convention in seven of the last eight years, instead choosing candidates preferred by the county executive. Last year, the governor appointed a board member who never even went through the convention process. The convention has always been a less-than-perfect mechanism for selecting the school board. While intended to give the public some say in the selections, the convention could always be stacked by a small number of delegates. Now it seems that not even the special interest groups care enough to send representatives.

In failing to support an alternative to the nominating convention, the county legislators have given tacit approval to the status quo, which means, in effect, that the county executive will decide the next school board members. The law needs to be changed to reflect the reality. The board candidates and the public ought to be spared an ordeal that has become irrelevant. It's time to pull the plug on the nominating convention.

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