Education legislation discussed

After-school programs, process to select board members at issue

`Have a say in their board'

Support to change selection process has been lacking in past

February 04, 2000|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Maryland lawmakers heard testimony yesterday on three bills intended to bring changes to Anne Arundel County's public school system.

Two of the proposals would change the county school board selection process, taking the appointment power away from the governor and putting it in the hands of local elected officials.

A third bill would establish a pilot program to create after-school academic programs in up to 10 jurisdictions, including Anne Arundel, for at-risk pupils in grades three through five.

The proposals to change the school board selection process are the most recent initiatives in what has become a perennial debate in the county.

The School Board Nominating Convention, which consists of delegates from citizen groups, votes on school board candidates. The top two choices are submitted to the governor, who is not required to select either of them.

Both bills would retain the nominating convention to make recommendations.

The bills have drawn opposition from both the county school board and the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, which represents 4,200 members. Another group, the Anne Arundel County Council of PTAs, has issued a "position statement" favoring a referendum in which the public would decide how members are chosen.

In testimony before the the House Ways and Means education subcommittee, the teachers union's president, Susie C. Jablinske, said the group officially supports an elected school board but that changing the selection process is not a top priority.

"The current system works as it was intended to work," Jablinske said. "Why not just leave it alone and concentrate on helping the school system attract and retain highly qualified teachers in our classrooms?"

One of the measures -- 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 nominating convention and give the appointive power to the county executive, subject to the approval of the County Council.

The other -- sponsored by Del. David Boschert, a 33rd District Republican from Crownsville -- also calls for the county executive to make the appointment, but requires a two-thirds confirmation or rejection vote on candidates by the County Council.

Boschert's proposal calls for each school board member to represent a councilmanic district; the board now has four from legislative districts, three chosen at large, and one student member named each year through a student council organization. Neither bill would change the student membership procedure.

Sponsors of both bills argue that the changes would bring more accountability and local control to the selection process.

"I firmly believe that over 90 percent of people in the county want this change," Leopold told the subcommittee.

Said Boschert: "People have said many times they want to have a say in their board of education."

Anne Arundel County's General Assembly delegation has not yet taken a position on the bills, but in recent years it has not supported proposals to change the process.

After-school instruction

The measure to provide after-school instruction for underachieving children in grades three through five also was sponsored by D'Amato, who said that the program could reach 10,000 pupils who need help with reading, writing and math.

The proposed legislation, called the Maryland Extended Learning Bootstrap Pilot Program, calls for the classes to begin next year in up to 10 jurisdictions. Six have been selected, based on need -- Anne Arundel, Allegany, Baltimore, Prince George's and Wicomico counties, and Baltimore City.

"The earlier we get to underachieving students in these core skills, the better chance we have to move them onto a better learning path," D'Amato told the House Ways and Means Committee.

The bill seeks $10 million in state funds annually for the next three years to pay for the pilot program. As proposed, each participating jurisdiction would determine which schools to include and how the extra instruction is delivered. Schools could use their teaching staff or contract with outside providers.

Support from Superintendent

State Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick testified yesterday in support of the bill.

"I think it targets the right population, the population moving onto middle school, where we have to really ratchet up the skills to be successful," she said.

Educators from Allegany, Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties also spoke in favor of the legislation.

Robert C. Leib, director of business services for Anne Arundel County schools, requested an amendment to help cover transportation costs for pupils.

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