School board selection is in debate again

Three bills aimed at taking governor out of the process

Assembly delegation split

Recommendations by nominating group occasionally unheeded

November 14, 1999|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

The perennial debate over how Anne Arundel County should choose its school board is starting again in the county's General Assembly delegation.

At least three proposals to change the school board selection process -- each aimed at taking the decision out of the governor's hands -- are in the works.

One bill -- sponsored by Dels. John R. Leopold of Pasadena, a 31st District Republican, and C. Richard D'Amato, a 30th District Democrat from Annapolis -- would retain the county's School Board Nominating Convention to make recommendations. But the appointment would be made by the county executive, with approval from the County Council.

The convention consists of delegates from citizens groups who vote on school board candidates. Their recommendations have not always been followed.

Del. Janet Greenip, a 33rd District Republican from Crofton, is drafting a bill that would replace the selection process with an elected school board. Under her proposal, the board's adult membership would increase from seven to 12 -- one from each of the county's high school feeder systems.

Greenip said Friday that she preferred that the voting be local, with members elected by residents of the area they represent, rather than countywide. But because high school feeder systems do not match the ward-and-precinct boundaries of election districts, she was uncertain how that could be accomplished.

According to state lawmakers and community activists, Del. David Boschert, a 33rd District Republican from Crownsville, is working on a bill that would give County Council members the power to appoint school board members. Boschert, who was out of town last week, could not be reached to comment.

Local politicians and community activists have argued about the selection process for years. Support for an elected school board has been building among residents, who say the process is confusing and lacks accountability.

Leopold said, "The [Assembly] delegation has been split essentially three ways: Those who favor the status quo, those who want the county executive to appoint members and those who favor an elected board."

State Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, a 31st District Democrat from Brooklyn Park, said: "I think it's really inappropriate that we make any changes. The system is really working. The governor is honoring the wishes of the convention process."

Jimeno says the school board selection process became an issue in 1994, when then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer named Thomas J. Florestano to a seat, ignoring the names submitted by the nominating convention. Florestano, a former president of Anne Arundel Community College, stepped down after his term ended this past July. "The Florestano situation killed the nominating process," said Pasadena resident Carolyn Roeding, president of the Greater Pasadena Council and vice president of the statewide Parent-Teacher Association.

Alan Lang, chairman of the nominating convention, disagreed. He said that of the 29 county school board members appointed since 1979, 24 were chosen from the lists submitted by convention delegates. "We don't think the current process is broken," Lang said. "If the governor picks our first or second choices, we think we've been successful."

D'Amato and Leopold said their bill -- which would give the county executive appointment power and require confirmation by the council -- provides more accountability at the local level. Leopold introduced the same bill in 1996.

"I think it's important to have more participation at the level where most of the budgeting responsibility is," D'Amato said. "I also think it's important to balance any tendency toward executive capriciousness with a legislative body."

Greenip's bill, in draft form, would provide for the election of board members, beginning with the 2004 general election. They would serve four-year terms and receive $6,000 a year.

Greenip said she may add a provision to her bill that would put to referendum the question of whether to have election of board members, who oversee a 75,000-student system.

"The people do not feel they're being represented, that they're being heard or that the board understands them," she said.

During the last General Assembly session, the county's delegation did not push for an elected school board, despite the urgings of the County Council of PTAs and some large community associations. In August, the County Council approved a resolution asking state lawmakers to pass a law allowing board elections. Thirteen of Maryland's 24 jurisdictions have elected school boards.

Although she supports an elected school board, Roeding said a referendum should be held to determine voter preference. "If they really want to know what people want, put it on the ballot," she said. "If we're smart enough to elect other officials, why aren't we smart enough to elect school board members?"

Anne Arundel's delegation will decide after the session begins in January whether any of the bills related to selection should advance for consideration by the Assembly.

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