Shorter school board terms endorsed by county delegation

Number of members to remain at five

January 24, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

New members of Howard County's school board will serve four years instead of six, county legislators agreed in a caucus vote on proposed legislation in Annapolis yesterday. They rejected a companion proposal to enlarge the county school board from five to seven members.

The vote means state legislation changing the Howard school board term is virtually certain to pass, because local delegations are usually given control over bills that affect only their jurisdictions.

The delegation delayed voting on another bill that would allow the county government to keep an added $1.2 million in state-collected real estate taxes. The bill could fail this year, said Del. Frank S. Turner, a Democrat and chairman of the county delegation, because legislators might be more worried about state budget problems than the county's projected $18 million deficit.

The school board vote was to change a bill offered by Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Democrat, that followed a county citizen committee's recommendation to expand the board from five to seven members and shorten their terms from six to four years.

"I think we've had enough discussion about it," Bobo said to general agreement, referring to debates on the issue over the past several years.

Newly appointed state Sen. Robert H. Kittleman, a Republican, said votes were lacking to pass the bill. He proposed an amendment confined to shortening board members' terms.

That passed 9-1, with only Bobo voting to reject the change to her bill. Later, she said she would support the amended bill on a final vote.

Kittleman said support for enlarging the board "has gone away" since the election in 2000 of one board member - Virginia Charles - who lives east of U.S. 29. But shortening the board members' terms is popular with his constituents, he said.

Republican Sen. Sandra B. Schrader, the other recently appointed state senator, said she opposed making the board larger now. When county school enrollment rises to 50,000 - which it is expected to do within several years - the board must enlarge to seven members.

Meanwhile, she said, the shorter terms will probably attract more good candidates to run. "Six years is an awfully long time," she said.

A final vote will be taken when the details of converting from six- to four-year terms are included in the bill.

This year, only board President Jane B. Schuchardt's board seat will be on the November ballot. She is not seeking re-election, she said. Two more seats will be up in 2004 and three seats in 2006.

Schuchardt and other board members supported the move to shorten members' terms.

Charles noted that shorter terms was one of the study committee's recommendations. "I think it's a step in the right direction," she said.

The fate of the bill affecting real estate taxes remains uncertain after two discussions in the delegation and a presentation yesterday by Dale B. Neubert, the county finance director.

She told legislators that the state, through Circuit Court Clerk Margaret B. Rappaport, collects recordation and transfer taxes, keeping a 5 percent administrative fee that totaled $1.5 million last year.

A study by county auditor Ronald Weinstein found that it costs the state $136,000 to collect the taxes, so County Executive James N. Robey wants to reduce the state's cut from 5 percent to 1 percent - about $300,000.

Legislators seemed a bit skittish, asking for more information and delaying a vote. Turner said after the session that many are worried about balancing the state budget for next year and might be loath to give up the extra money.

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