2 bills seek power shift on education Executive to name members of school board under proposal

Accountability stressed

2nd measure seeks more financial reporting to council

February 29, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County's government is poised to assume more control over its school board than that wielded by any other county in the state under two measures being considered by the General Assembly.

One would make Anne Arundel the only county in Maryland where the executive would appoint school board members. The other would require the board to be more financially accountable to the county government.

For opponents, the combination would lead to the executive and county council setting educational priorities, making a school board superfluous.

"This is about power and money and control," said Thomas Twombly, a board member who would not be serving a second term if it were up to County Executive John G. Gary. "It's total micromanagement.`

"You've got the county government working its way into" the school board's business, he said.

Supporters of the measures say they are overdue attempts to make local elected officials more accountable on school issues.

Under the bill, the county executive would make appointments to the board based on recommendations from the school board nominating convention.

"The appointment authority for the school board is best at the local level. After all, that is where budget authority lies," Mr. Gary said in a prepared statement.

Local school boards serve two masters. The state superintendent of education holds them accountable for what goes on in their school systems, but most education dollars come from county budgets.

The county's General Assembly delegation has scheduled hearings on the school board appointment and fiscal reporting bills at 9 a.m. tomorrow in Annapolis.

School board appointment authority was one of Mr. Gary's campaign issues in 1994. A year ago, the county Spending Affordability Committee said in its annual report that the move would help the executive control education spending, which accounts for 57 percent of the county operating budget.

In 13 Maryland counties, the governor appoints school board members, usually from a list of two or three candidates supplied by local nominating conventions. County executives have complained that state delegates and senators have too much influence over those appointment because of their closer ties to governors.

Advocates of transferring the appointment authority say local officials need greater control over school system priorities so they can get a better handle on county finances in lean budget times.

"I think there is some perceived accountability to the county executive," said David Bliden, executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties. But he noted that a board member named by a county executive could turn out to be independent.

That is unlikely, says the Maryland Association of Boards of Education (MABE).

"In effect, the locus on control shifts dramatically" with a change in the power of appointment, said Susan Buswell, MABE executive director. "The board becomes advisory. A board, at its own peril, does not [disregard] the advice of its county executive."

Under the bill on financial accountability, the school board would report twice a year to the County Council on how it is spending money within its 13 budget categories, which include instruction and administration.

Critics say the requirement is an invitation to repeated tongue-lashings by councils that disagree with school board priorities and to threats that a council would not approve a transfer of money among the categories toward the end of the fiscal year.

"French immersion -- is that it?" said Mr. Twombly, referring to a pilot program the school board wants to continue but that the County Council last year sliced from its budget. "You would now have the county executive and the county council shaping policies."

In some ways, the measure is nothing more than a slight enhancement of the existing voluntary discussions between the board and council and of the mandated monthly expense reports, said Gregory V. Nourse, school financial officer.

School officials already meet in December -- roughly midway through the fiscal year -- with the County Council to discuss the system's financial state.

Another bill to be taken up at tomorrow's hearing would leave the power to appoint school board members with the governor -- where it now lies -- but would confine his choice for each vacancy to one of the top three candidates recommended by the local nominating convention.

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