School election process survives

Senate kills bills seeking to reduce governor's role

April 05, 2006|By ANICA BUTLER | ANICA BUTLER,SUN REPORTER

Despite the introduction of three House bills and a Senate bill during this year's General Assembly session, efforts to change the way Anne Arundel County school board members are selected have again fallen short.

Any hope of changing the decades-old appointment process this year died when the county's Senate delegation voted to kill two bills that addressed the issue.

A bill that had won House passage was backed by two of Anne Arundel's five senators; it needed the support of the majority of the delegation to advance to a Senate vote.

Arundel school board members are appointed by the governor. He can choose between two names submitted by a nominating convention of about 150 people that vets the candidates in a series of meetings - but the governor is not required to do so.

Del. John R. Leopold, a Pasadena Republican who is running for county executive, introduced the bill that was shot down by the county's senators after being approved by the House of Delegates in a 132-5 vote.

Monday's vote by the county's senators, Leopold said, "was, unfortunately, the death knell for reform," he said. "It was a lost opportunity for structural reform of the selection process."

Leopold said his bill would have solved "the circumvention problem" - when the governor appoints someone not vetted by the nominating convention - which he calls a slap in the face to county residents. Such circumvention has happened six times in the last 20 years, he said.

The bill would have created a 15-member nominating commission made up of appointees of the governor, the county executive, County Council, teachers union, PTA and others. And, in addition to limiting the governor's choices to the candidates selected by the commission, new board members would have to appear on the ballot in the next general election for a retention vote.

Sens. John C. Astle, a Democrat, and Janet Greenip, a Republican, voted for the bill. Democratic Sens. John A. Giannetti Jr., Philip C. Jimeno and James E. DeGrange Sr. voted against it.

Jimeno opposes changing the current system.

He said the proposed 15-member committee excluded too many organizations and areas of the county that are represented under the current process.

"At a time when the public is demanding greater participation, this bill will step backwards by excluding people," Jimeno said.

An identical bill suffered a nearly identical fate last year. The House approved a similar measure, 131-1, but the senators didn't finish amending their version until the last day of the session, and the Senate never voted on the proposal.

The Senate delegation also failed to support a bill by Greenip that would have created a hybrid elected-appointed board. Her bill, which had a corresponding House bill, would have required that two board members be appointed by the county executive and approved by the County Council, and five members elected by district in a nonpartisan race. Greenip was the only senator to support that bill.

The House version did not receive the support of the county House delegation, nor did another alternative.

"I have never been a proponent of an elected school board," Jimeno said. "It's almost meaningless with no fiscal autonomy."

Leopold says the bill he authored wasn't perfect but represented a compromise.

Mark Fontaine, chairman of the school board nominating convention, went to Monday's meeting of the county senators to speak as an individual against that bill.

"It was a lousy piece of legislation. It basically took away the freedom of the governor to do his appointments. It took away the freedom of the county executive to propose appointments and the County Council to propose appointments," Fontaine said.

"It just doesn't solve any problems," he added. "It makes things worse."

The school board nominating convention is gearing up to recommend a replacement for school board member Paul G. Rudolph, whose term ends in June. The convention is holding the first of its hearings to vet candidates tonight at Old Mill Middle School South.

anica.butler@baltsun.com

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