House delegation kills school board selection measure Voters would have picked among three methods

February 16, 1997|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A controversial measure to let Anne Arundel County voters choose from among three ways to select school board members fizzled Friday; the county's House delegation killed it.

Del. John Leopold, a Pasadena Republican who touted his proposal as a "fair compromise" after last year's divisive battles over the issue, had a hang-dog look after the 6-6 vote.

"The bill represented an opportunity to give the people of Anne Arundel County a choice," he said. But he noted, "I suppose there's always next year or the year after."

Countered Edgewater Republican Phillip D. Bissett: "As long as I am the chairman of this delegation, I don't want to live 'deja vu all over again,' to quote Yogi Berra."

Several other delegates said they did not foresee the issue returning next year, just months before an election.

How the county should choose school board members has been a contentious issue for more than a decade, culminating last year in what legislators recall as a blood bath. County Executive John G. Gary crusaded to take the appointment power from the governor's office and lost.

This year's bill had the backing of the Anne Arundel County League of Women Voters -- which hoped it would lead to an elected board -- and the County Council of PTAs. Gary vehemently opposed it.

Now a nominating convention makes recommendations to the governor, who may approve them or ignore them. The choices in Leopold's bill were retaining that system, electing board members directly or keeping the convention but turning appointment authority over to the county executive.

Defeat of the bill was neither strictly along party lines nor strictly by delegates' beliefs in how the school board should be chosen.

"It's too convoluted," said Bissett, who went against it. "I support county executive appointment with the convention."

Once the bill was amended to provide a run-off election between the two top vote-getting concepts, Republican Michael Burns of Glen Burnie withdrew his support, which wasn't strong to start with. Last year, he supported appointment by the county executive.

"This is no longer the bill that I co-sponsored," he announced.

Mary Ann Love, a Glen Burnie Democrat, who also voted against the bill, said, "I think it would have led to an elected school board, and I am not sure I am in favor of that."

Del. Robert C. Baldwin, a Republican from Gambrills, was the envy of several delegates. He was out of town.

The defeat saddened the president of the county's League of Women Voters.

"It would have given the citizens of the community the opportunity to make the decision, and they should. They are not very happy with the way they are going now," said Joan Urbas, head of the county's chapter.

Few expect that Friday's vote will be the last word on school board selection.

"It's not going to go away. The problems are going to get bigger," Urbas said.

She said disenchantment with the board and school spending will continue to fuel it. She believed similar factors led retiring school board member Michael Pace to suggest creating special tax districts to raise money for schools. Pace asked that his idea be referred for summer study, but Bissett later said he probably would not send a tax-related measure for legislative study with an election in the wings.

Pub Date: 2/16/97

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