NAACP protests board choices

Balto. County's diversity not reflected, group says

Ehrlich aide defends selections

Schools panel is left with one black member

August 11, 2004|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County NAACP branch criticized yesterday Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s recent appointments to the county school board, saying they do not reflect the diversity of the county or its increasingly diverse public school system.

Patricia Ferguson, president of the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, wrote in a statement issued yesterday that the group will join other concerned community members in calling for a new procedure to select board members - "a process," she wrote, "that in this era of changing demographics will ensure that there is a real, well-thought diversity that responds to the people, not a superficial one born of political convenience."

On Friday, the governor appointed four new members and a student representative to the 12-member board, including a Hispanic man and an African-American woman.

FOR THE RECORD - A headline accompanying an article yesterday on the Baltimore County NAACP's criticism of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s appointments to the county school board incorrectly stated the number of board members who are black. Two members are black. The Sun regrets the error.

In doing so, he replaced two board members who were not up for reappointment - including one black man - and passed over two board members - including one black woman - who had sought second five-year terms. The result was a net loss of one African-American board member.

Henry Fawell, an Ehrlich spokesman, questioned the NAACP's contention that the appointees are not diverse enough.

"It is absurd of them to question the governor's commitment to diversity when half his appointments to the board are minorities," he said.

But Ferguson said that isn't enough.

"I welcome all other groups - Hispanics, Asians and others - to the board that the governor feels can be appointed, but I'm just a little concerned that the number of African-Americans has dropped when we have such a large minority population," she said last night.

In a public school system of more than 108,000 students, nearly 40,000 are African-American, according to State Department of Education figures.

That number has increased by more than 7,000 students in the past four years.

Ferguson said that Ehrlich's recent board appointments amount to a "step backward" in reflecting that population on the board that makes the major decisions affecting the system.

"If the move were to enhance diversity, why didn't the governor just add a Hispanic individual and maintain the African-American representation already there?" she wrote in the group's statement. "Diversity is not a matter of merely substituting one minority with another."

Ferguson suggested changing the appointment process to allow community groups a chance to interview board candidates and give them a voice in choosing new board members.

The new members

The new members join a board that oversees a school system with more than 17,000 employees and annual operating and capital budgets that together total more than $1 billion.

They are:

Luis E. Borunda, president of The Signman Inc. and past president and co-founder of the Baltimore Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He is Hispanic.

Frances A.S. Harris, a legislative assistant to Dels. A. Wade Kach and Patrick L. McDonough of Baltimore County. She is white.

Roger C. Janssen, a construction manager and vice president of the countywide PTA council. He is white.

Ramona N. Johnson, deputy director of the Fannie Mae Baltimore Partnership Office and a member of the boards of the Liberty-Randallstown Coalition and the Maryland Center for Community Development. She is black.

Nicholas Camp, the student member, a junior at Catonsville High School. He is white.

Formerly on board

Janese Murray, who is African-American, was one of two board members who had sought reappointment and were passed over by the governor. Although she said she was disappointed not to be named to a second term, she said she was not in a position to evaluate the NAACP's concerns. But she did agree that selecting a diverse panel is important.

"I don't want to get into how many numbers there should be, but the board needs to be able to reflect the concerns of the community," Murray said. "That doesn't mean that because somebody is not a minority they can't advocate on behalf of minority students, but diversity is important."

The full board met last night for the first time since the governor's appointments.

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