Support seen for electing board

Many at meeting oppose appointing school panel

Lawmakers considering a change

Governor is not required to pick local favorites

Anne Arundel

December 15, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Though they disagreed on the details, most of those who turned out last night to debate how Anne Arundel County selects its school board members agreed on one thing: The process needs to be changed.

"There's a consensus against the status quo," said Del. Tony McConkey after the meeting, held as Anne Arundel's state lawmakers weigh whether to overhaul the system of appointed board members. McConkey has said in the past that about half of Maryland's school boards are elected.

During the last legislative session, the Severna Park Republican sponsored - and later withdrew - a bill that would have put a referendum before the voters to allow the election of school board members.

Currently, the governor appoints seven members of the school board for five-year terms. Although a nominating convention composed of representatives from different community organizations selects several candidates, the governor is not required to choose one of them.

In addition, student government representatives elect a high school senior each year to serve as student member, who has full voting rights.

Last night, those who spoke in favor of electing candidates outnumbered those who spoke against it in the crowd of about 40 that included elected officials and former and current school board members.

"There needs to be a way to police those with so much power," said Severna Park parent Leslie Cowing, who favors having elected board members.

Annapolis parent and former school board candidate Pamela Bukowski described how school board members ignored the recommendations of hundreds of parents when considering redistricting 10 years ago.

"I was frustrated then by the lack of knowledge of the far-reaching effects" of such decisions, she said.

But Arnold resident and charter school advocate Andy Smarick recommended that the county executive appoint members subject to confirmation by County Council members.

"There's no study showing an elected school board leading to student achievement," he said.

Some of those at the meeting suggested modifying, rather than scrapping, elements of the current process. Severna Park resident Jim Snider, who was selected by the nominating commission in 2002 but passed over by then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening, described the nominating convention as "a gem in the rough."

He said the convention's delegates from community and religious groups could vet contenders. Then, if selected, those candidates could receive an endorsement on the election ballot.

However, former school board president Carlesa R. Finney expressed concern. She said an elected board would favor the interests of organized factions rather than the needs of the entire system. Also, she said, the current nominating process promotes diversity of race, gender and background.

McConkey said after the meeting that he plans to meet with all the Arundel delegates to craft a bill they can all agree upon. Last year, other delegates suggested amendments that would have allowed voters to consider appointment by the county executive, with confirmation by the County Council.

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