New list sought for city board

State school board reopens search for nominees agreeable to both mayor, governor

August 30, 2006|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,Sun reporter

Thrust into a political battle over control of public education in Baltimore, the state school board followed a request by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and voted yesterday to reopen a search for city school board members.

Ehrlich and his gubernatorial rival, Mayor Martin O'Malley, appoint the city board jointly, selecting from a list of candidates vetted by the state board.

This month, Ehrlich refused to reappoint three members whose terms have expired, including the chairman, Brian D. Morris, an O'Malley ally. O'Malley wants all three members reappointed. Now the state board will give the governor and the mayor more candidates from which to choose.

The practical effect of yesterday's vote isn't clear. It appears that O'Malley might be able to get what he wants by simply stalling, because the sitting board members can continue to serve until he and the governor reach agreement.

"Nothing's going to happen until after the November election," predicted former state Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, who helped draft the 1997 legislation that gave the governor and mayor joint appointment power over the city school board. "The two parties that have to agree are not feeling very agreeable toward one another. It's sort of like a stalemate."

Appearing at a state school board meeting yesterday, Ehrlich again lashed out at sitting city board members for voting this spring to lower the passing grade in key subjects from 70 to 60. He said the move signaled support of "social promotion," or passing unprepared kids on to the next grade.

"I want someone who is not going to stand for social promotion," the governor said. "I want people who are going to be aggressive, who are going to challenge the status quo."

He said he wants city board members who are "in sync" with the state board, which he appoints solely. He called on the state board to stop social promotion in Baltimore, saying that "if social promotion is the policy of one district in the state, we have failed."

Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for O'Malley, questioned why the governor didn't voice his displeasure with the vote on the passing grade when it happened two months ago. "He should have brought this up when it first passed, and stop trying to distract everyone from doing the job of educating our kids," she said.

Guillory noted that Ehrlich signed off on the appointment of the three members whose terms just expired - Morris, Diane Bell McKoy and Jerrelle Francois - when they first came on the board in 2003. "If the governor had actually met the people he appointed," she added, "he might want to reappoint them."

The dispute highlights a gray area in 1997 legislation that created a city-state partnership to oversee Baltimore's schools: It does not spell out what should happen if the governor and the mayor disagree on school board appointments.

At the time the legislation was drafted, people involved said yesterday, there didn't seem to be a need for such a provision, since both the governor and the mayor belonged to the same political party.

"Up until now, it's been pretty amicable," Hoffman said.

Players in the legislation remember differently what was supposed to happen in the event of a disagreement.

Some said such a scenario was never discussed. State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, an Ehrlich ally, said there was an understanding from the beginning that "we would go back to the drawing board."

Grasmick cited O'Malley's decision shortly after his election in 1999 not to reappoint board member Edward J. Brody, who had supported O'Malley's opponent in the mayoral race. Grasmick said then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening would have liked to see Brody reappointed, but he went along with O'Malley's decision and looked for other candidates.

Brody said Glendening never contacted him, and he offered his resignation from the board after O'Malley said he did not want to reappoint him.

Kurt L. Schmoke, who was mayor in 1997, said the city-state partnership was initially created on a trial basis to be evaluated after five years. It was assumed, he said, that the people he and Glendening appointed would serve all five years, at which point the people in power would determine how to deal with any disputes.

Before they face off in the November election, O'Malley and Ehrlich will have to reach agreement to fill two vacancies on the nine-member board. In addition to the three terms that expired in July, two other board members resigned this summer: Michael C. Parker left for a job out of state, and Douglas R. Kington said he needed to spend more time with his family.

By law, the governor and the mayor must fill open seats on the board within 60 days.

This spring, the state board forwarded to Ehrlich and O'Malley a list of eight candidates for the three expiring terms that included the three incumbents. In voting unanimously yesterday to reopen the search, state board members said they want to give the governor and the mayor more choices now that they must fill five seats instead of three. They plan to vote on a new list of candidates by late September.

"They went through the process earlier this year," Morris said. "The outcome of that was, they put forward a list that included our names. ... I'm not sure what is likely to be different in this round."

Francois declined to comment yesterday, and McKoy could not be reached for comment.

Sun reporter Andrew A. Green contributed to this article.

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