Bill would put school board issue to a vote

Referendum would decide whether panel is appointed, elected

`The voters will speak'

System's critics disagree about best solution

Anne Arundel

General Assembly

March 01, 2004|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

A bill before the House of Delegates has revived a longstanding debate about how Anne Arundel County school board members should be chosen.

If approved, the proposal would put the controversial issue to a voter referendum in the November general election. Voters would be asked to decide if they want to abandon the system of a governor-appointed school board and replace it with an elected board.

Similar efforts over the years have failed.

Del. Anthony McConkey, a Severna Park Republican who introduced the bill, said he has support from the county's six other Republican delegates. He needs support from at least eight of the 15 Anne Arundel delegates for the bill to stand a chance in the House, which usually defers to a majority of the delegation.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Anne Arundel edition of The Sun incorrectly reported the responsibilities of the student member of the county Board of Education. The student board member has full voting rights. The Sun regrets the error.

McConkey supports a system under which school board members would be elected by voters in each of the county's seven Council districts, be paid $12,000 a year and have to reside in the district that elected them. An eighth member with nearly full voting rights would be a high school senior chosen by a student council association, as is now the case.

It is unclear whether McConkey will succeed. He is working on a version of the bill that would appeal to more of his colleagues, who have expressed a range of views on the issue.

At a delegation meeting on Friday, Del. John R. Leopold proposed amending the bill to give voters a second choice: a school board appointed by the county executive and confirmed by the County Council. But Del. Terry R. Gilleland Jr., a co-sponsor of the bill, said he would oppose the amendment.

Del. Virginia P. Clagett, a Democrat, asked why the bill does not clarify the option of preserving the current system. "It's certainly something that has been on the books for a long time," she said.

McConkey said he would be willing to add both options to the referendum. His main concern, he said, was to give voters the opportunity to weigh in on a matter that has been debated for years.

Fearing that the proposal had become muddled, delegation Chairwoman Mary Ann Love said she will ask the delegation's education subcommittee to study it and make a recommendation.

The school board's seven adult members currently are appointed to five-year terms by the governor, after he receives candidate recommendations from a convention of representatives of parent, community and business groups.

Tensions have risen over the years when the governor has ignored the advice of the nominating convention. In 2002, some residents were infuriated when then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening passed over the convention's top nominee, Severna Park resident Jim Snider, and appointed South County contractor Konrad M. Wayson at the urging of County Executive Janet S. Owens.

Critics of the current system say it is ineffective because there is low participation. Fewer than 200 people participated in last year's convention to fill one of three at-large seats on the board. The four other seats are based on Council districts.

But critics have different ideas of what would be a better system. Leopold, a Pasadena Republican, favors keeping the nominating convention but wants the final appointment made by elected county officials. Others, like McConkey and Gilleland, believe a school board elected by voters would be the most responsive to the public.

"I've had a lot of my constituents take their complaints to the school board, and they don't feel their issues have been addressed," McConkey said. "Right now the system that we have doesn't give much incentive for the school board [to be responsive]. The board owes allegiance to the governor."

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