Larger school board? Howard County plan: Concerns prompt legislator's quest for representative board.

February 15, 2000

A PROPOSAL to expand the Howard County school board with two political appointees deserves a vigorous hearing. If such a bifurcated board -- part elected, part appointed -- could be managed without political motive, it would be a fine idea.

It would provide flexibility, an opportunity for redress of various grievances while still allowing the voters to fill most of the policy-making spots.

County Executive James N. Robey welcomes the opportunity for obvious reasons: He would make the appointments, expanding his personal power, while addressing the concerns of some poorly represented Columbia parents.

Conversely, the appointees would have less independence -- particularly, as one critic of the idea says, at budget time.

The idea comes from Del. Frank S. Turner, a Columbia Democrat who continues to look for ways to make his constituents feel like part of the school system. Mr. Turner, it seems clear, will continue to push for changes that satisfy the concerns of his constituents -- some of whom were disadvantaged by school board decisions in the past.

Such legitimate grievances will, of course, occur from time to time. But does that mean the form of representation should change? Are the lapses so persistent that a change of structure is called for, as opposed to adjustments that might address the problem?

It may be that the school board ought not be partly democratic, partly autocratic. Mr. Turner's earlier effort to have board members elected district-by-district was a more rational approach. That initiative was defeated in the county's legislative delegation.

This latest Turner proposal could be a step toward the ideal solution: an appointed board that's free to make decisions with children's best interests in mind.

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