Baltimore County's school board president and community activists sparred with a state senator yesterday over the merits of a bill that would make the appointment process to the county school board unlike any other in the state.
At a hearing before the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, Republican Sen. Andrew P. Harris grilled school board President James R. Sasiadek and activists Maggie Kennedy and Ella White Campbell about their support for a bill to require Senate confirmation of the governor's appointments to the Baltimore County school board. He also challenged Sen. Delores G. Kelley, the bill's chief sponsor.
Kelley and Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, another sponsor and chairwoman of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, have said they were prompted in part by their dissatisfaction with the handling of the latest round of appointments to the board, which added four new members. The bill is supported by all six of the county's Democratic state senators and opposed by the two Republicans, including Harris.
Harris said the bill would not improve community input in board selection, which proponents say is needed, but rather would give senators statewide control over a local matter. Backers of the bill disagree, saying the full Senate would be expected to ratify the local Senate delegation's preferences.
Harris questioned Kelley's contention that the board lost diversity when Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. declined last summer to reappoint Janese F. Murray, an African-American. While the number of blacks on the 12-member board declined from three to two, the board gained its first Latino.
Kelley said the board needs African-Americans who understand the needs of the black children filling west-side schools, where, she said, there is "a great disparity, not only in achievement but in resources of schools." She used as an example Woodlawn High, which a few decades ago produced a future astronaut and now has 13 of 16 math teachers not fully certified.
When Sasiadek testified, Harris demanded to know whether he had been quoted correctly in a Sun article in which Sasiadek said of Ehrlich's recent appointees: "We're getting people now who take potshots at the board, who don't show up at things, who have never participated."
Sasiadek did not dispute the quote. He offered to provide Harris a list of which board members have attended different events, and said he will soon be forced to call one new board member who has missed too many meetings.
Sasiadek was not speaking for the board; his testimony represented only his own views. On Tuesday, the board voted 7-4, after a spirited debate, not to take a position on the bill.
It appeared that more board members opposed the bill than supported it, including all the new appointees, and many favored a return to the previous system of a nominating convention where the governor would pick from among candidates advanced by the community. The system fell apart after governors, starting with William Donald Schaefer and continuing with Parris N. Glendening, ignored the recommendations.
Campbell, who spoke on behalf of the county branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the conventions had been unsuccessful in producing minority candidates, and she enlisted Kelley and Hollinger to help get blacks appointed under previous governors. Kelley and Hollinger said Ehrlich does not consult with them.