Bill on choosing school board runs out of time

County delegation approved plan for nominating panel

`We know what we want' for next year

April 13, 2005|By Childs Walker and Phillip McGowan | Childs Walker and Phillip McGowan,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County school board will be selected the same way for at least another year after a bill that would have changed the process failed to reach a state Senate vote this week.

The House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved a measure two weeks ago to have a nominating committee recommend candidates to the governor, with the nominees later standing for election. But Anne Arundel's senators didn't back an amended bill until Monday night, the last day of the General Assembly session.

The measure then was forwarded to a Senate committee but never voted on.

"Time just ran out," said Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, a county Democrat who opposed the bill. "There were a lot of technical problems with the bill the House sent over."

But the four other county senators, who reached agreement on electing school board members, said the tide might be changing. They said it's likely the full county delegation can come to a quick consensus on a similar bill by next year's session.

"We got a solution that everyone's comfortable with," said Sen. John C. Astle, a Democrat. "Now we know what we want."

In its original form, the bill called for a referendum on elected school boards. But House Speaker Michael E. Busch proposed the nominating committee as an alternative.

The House of Delegates passed that compromise plan, 131-1, in March, with Anne Arundel Del. Joan Cadden dissenting.

Three of the county's five state senators initially had problems with the House bill. Jimeno said some parts of the county weren't adequately represented on Busch's proposed nominating committee. Jimeno also complained that the bill failed to give the County Council a role in the selection or to offer public hearings on possible board members.

Busch's bill passed the House on March 28. The county's senators tinkered with the bill until Monday, adding amendments to include more representation for West and North counties, Severna Park and Annapolis. This shored up support from every Anne Arundel senator except Jimeno, but too late for a Senate committee vote.

"If the session had been 91 days, we would have had a new school board," said Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr., a Democrat who backed the measure after initially opposing it.

At one point, Giannetti sent an e-mail to Busch hinting that he was open to supporting the school board bill if the speaker would meet with him to discuss a compromise on slot machines.

Giannetti said he wasn't asking for a quid pro quo, but rather was trying a lighthearted approach to get Busch's attention. The two never met, Giannetti said, and yet the senator changed his mind on the school board bill.

Busch's proposal would have created a 13-member nominating commission to make recommendations to the governor, who would have to select from its list.

Under the current system, a nominating convention of several hundred delegates forwards its picks to the governor, who isn't required to follow their recommendations.

"The electorate is so upset that they don't have a say," said Sen. Janet Greenip, a Republican who backed the bill.

Busch said he acted to avoid direct elections, which he said would hurt minority representation.

Under his proposal, members, once appointed, would serve on the board until the next general election and then run to retain the seat. Anne Arundel - one of eight school districts whose board members are appointed by the governor - would have been the first in the state to adopt such a method.

"It's unfortunate that we didn't get it," Greenip said.

Jimeno said he was content to see the bill die. "I don't see any really compelling reason to change the current system," he said.

Del. John R. Leopold, a Republican, said that support among the county delegation is strong for another go-round next year. He plans to prefile the bill before the next legislative session.

"Having the support of all but two [of the 20] members was very encouraging and offers a strong foundation for next year," he said.

Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr., a county Democrat who also backed the final version, agreed the bill might pass next year.

"With the changes made - it made it better," he said. "The bill has a realistic chance, if we move on it early."

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