Elected-school-board drive hits a wall in Annapolis

Activists' arguments against appointments don't sway legislators

January 31, 1999|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

Despite the pleas of two of Anne Arundel County's largest community associations and the County Council of PTAs, the county's delegation to the General Assembly is not likely to press for an elected school board during this legislative session.

Neither the new county executive nor the new County Council is pushing for a change, and most legislators say the drive for an elected school board has stalled.

Representatives from the Greater Crofton Council, the Greater Severna Park Council and the County Council of PTAs met Friday with the delegation and asked members to at least endorse the idea of an elected board.

"A system of checks and balances must be employed for the operation of school systems," said Evelyn Kampmeyer, the education chairwoman of the Greater Severna Park Council, a group of 63 neighborhood organizations.

"Elected officials may be the only way communities and taxpayers can hold board members accountable," she said.

But legislators, who listened patiently, were not persuaded.

Studies indicate no significant advantages to having an elected board rather than an appointed one, lawmakers said as they questioned the community leaders.

Would school board candidates run on tickets with other local politicians? Would there be campaign-contribution limits? And without taxing authority -- no Maryland school board has that power -- how would an elected board be any different?

Richard Zipper, who formed Citizens for an Elected School Board last month, did not have answers. And without answers, the lawmakers said, they could not support the concept.

"At this point, I don't think anything is going to happen with this," said Del. Mary Ann Love, a Glen Burnie Democrat. "I haven't introduced any legislation, and most of us think that it would be nice if we could fix what we have."

She said she believes delegation members will not consider changes at least until after the school board nominating convention makes its choices this year.

The convention consists of citizens groups that recommend to the governor two candidates for each open school board seat.

Critics complain that governors sometimes ignore recommendations.

Three years ago, former County Executive John G. Gary led a charge to make the appointments. County legislators supported him, but the bill died in committee. This year, however, Sentiments have changed, though.

"The players have changed; there is a new county executive," Love said.

County Executive Janet S. Owens defeated Gary in November largely because of his battles with the school board. Owens, who had promised during the election to cooperate with Superintendent Carol S. Parham and the school board, continues to make that pledge as she begins working works on her first budget.

But, Zipper and his supporters say, the board selection process must change to make educators more accountable to parents.

"We are concerned about aging schools, redistricting and the school budget," said Torey Jacobson of the Greater Crofton Council. "And while an elected system doesn't guarantee that all these problems will be solved, it would make board members more responsive to our needs."

Pub Date: 1/31/99

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