School board issue revived

Council resolution to elect members to be introduced

Burlison renewing his 1999 push

Anne Arundel

January 02, 2003|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

An Anne Arundel County councilman is renewing a push for local school board members to be chosen at the voting booth instead of by the governor.

Councilman Bill D. Burlison, who persuaded the County Council in 1999 to endorse a switch to an elected school board, said he will introduce a nearly identical resolution at Monday night's council meeting. It will be debated at the next meeting Jan. 21, Burlison said.

Although the council passed Burlison's resolution 3 1/2 years ago, it produced no change. Deciding how the school board is chosen is the job of state lawmakers. Resolutions are merely attempts to prod the legislature into action.

"It doesn't have any immediate impact," said Del. Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel Democrat and the incoming speaker of the House of Delegates. "It's like me sending a resolution to President Bush."

Busch said the county's legislative delegation will likely discuss the issue, but added that he hasn't heard a good reason to make changes.

"I don't understand what the problem is at the county level with the school board," Busch said. "Tell us what the problem is. Are they doing a bad job?"

Busch also expressed concern that the proposed system could jeopardize African-American representation on the board.

And it's no certainty that the resolution will win council support, either. Council member Pamela G. Beidle, who abstained from the 1999 vote, said she might do the same again. It's an issue for state lawmakers to handle, she said.

New council member Edward R. Reilly said he supports changing the process, perhaps by moving the appointments to the county level.

"I'm not married to any one form of selection," Reilly said. "I think this opens the door for a good public discussion of what direction we should go in."

In August 1999, Burlison's resolution was short on details but proposed that school board members be elected rather than appointed by the governor. The resolution passed, with four council members voting in favor of it and the other three abstaining from the vote.

In May, the system came into question again. Gov. Parris N. Glendening, in appointing four new members to the county Board of Education, passed over Jim Snider, the nominee who received the most votes from the county's school board nominating committee. Konrad M. Wayson, who was selected instead of Snider, had not been a candidate.

It was the fourth time in the nominating convention's 27 years that the governor ignored its recommendation.

"The most recent incident just further emphasizes the reasons for wanting to do away with the system we have," Burlison said.

"It's how we do things in a democracy. We elect important officials. If there is a more important institution than the school board in this county, I don't know what it is," he said.

Voters in 14 of the state's jurisdictions elect their school boards. In the other 10, they are appointed by the governor, according to the State Department of Education.

In Anne Arundel County, delegates to the county's School Board Nominating Convention select their top candidates for each open seat on the eight-member school board. The recommendations are forwarded to the governor, who makes the final selections, but is not required to choose the recommended candidates.

In 1999, some legislators called Burlison's proposal shallow and said it did not address critical issues, such as specifics about how the board would be elected and whether it would have taxing authority. Under the current system, all fiscal responsibility falls to the county executive and County Council.

"All of [those issues] can come later as far as I'm concerned," Burlison said.

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