Speakers debate school elections Legislators consider switch from system of appointments

September 27, 1995|By CAROL L. BOWERS | CAROL L. BOWERS,SUN STAFF

A veteran of the county's civil rights battles warned state legislators last night that switching from an appointed to an elected school board might effectively bar blacks from serving on the board.

"The record of blacks being elected in county-wide elections speaks for itself. There has been only one ever elected to the County Council," said Walter Blasingame, representing the Committee on Educational Issues.

He was among about a dozen speakers trying to help the county's state legislators decide whether they should introduce a bill to change the way school board members are selected.

Mr. Blasingame said the best way is the current one, in which the governor appoints school board members after considering nominations from an ad hoc citizens committee that sets up debates for board candidates.

"We want what is basically in place but without a requirement that the governor select from the one list," he said. "We believe the nominating convention should continue to serve a function in the role of screening candidates, but we also recognize that other factors need to be considered by the governor when he makes the appointment."

It was the disregard that former Gov. William Donald Schaefer showed for the ad hoc citizens committee's recommendations that sparked a movement in the county to change the way school board members are chosen.

For 25 years, the citizens committee has arranged debates among board candidates. Community groups register delegates who question candidates at the debates and then vote on them. The names of the top vote-getteres are sent to the governor.

But seven times in the past 12 years, the governor overlooked the top nominee or the entire list of names. As a result, the number of community groups who sent delegates to the debates has dropped steadily.

"There is a groundswell of support for an elected school board," said Joan Urbas, president of the county League of Women Voters.

Terry Burke, also representing the league, concurred.

"It's unfair to say the citizens are not ready for an elected board," Ms. Burke said. "I think the average Anne Arundel County citizen can read a newspaper, follow the issues in the campaign, and will go to the polls and pull that lever. I think even if we go back to the days when 800 delegates attended the nominating convention, it will not do what a general election will do to get people involved."

But still others favored the existing process with minor changes.

Another hearing is set for 7 p.m. Oct. 9 at the Glen Burnie Improvement Association meeting.

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