Groups might hold forums for school board candidates

Public input could continue without a convention

February 23, 1999|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County residents might get a chance to question school board candidates after all.

A month after Baltimore County's school board nominating convention disbanded because of lack of interest, county education leaders this week will begin asking other community groups to jointly sponsor school board candidate forums this spring.

"I think it's important that we have a public process and that people know who is interested in serving on the school board," said school board President Dunbar Brooks. "We'll call some groups and see if they would be interested in helping with the process."

The move occurs in response to a recent meeting in Annapolis between school board members and several county legislators who said they were worried about the loss of community involvement after the nominating convention suspended its operations.

County organizations that likely will be contacted include the Chamber of Commerce, PTA Council, League of Women Voters, school board advisory councils and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"All of those groups have a stake in who serves on the school board," said state Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, a Democrat representing northwestern Baltimore County.

Hollinger long has been critical of the nominating convention, which she says did not adequately represent enough community groups. She envisions larger turnout in a series of candidate forums throughout the county.

Four years ago, more than 140 groups -- including PTAs, homeowner associations and other nonprofit organizations -- were members of the convention. That number had dropped to about 85 last year, and 38 groups had joined this year by Jan. 15.

Within days of the membership deadline, the president of the convention sent a letter saying the group was suspending operations for 1999 because of the low interest.

Membership dwindled as former Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Gov. Parris N. Glendening made appointments that passed over the convention's top recommendations.

It's not clear whether the community forums would produce group recommendations similar to the nominating convention.

It seems likely that some type of community forums will be organized -- particularly because the five-year terms of four members of the 12-member board will expire this summer.

"We would not be averse to playing a role," said Robert McKinney, president of the county Chamber of Commerce. "Work force development is a key priority for us, and that ties in to what the board of education does."

Pub Date: 2/23/99

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