Leaders want changes in school board picks

Possibilities include local appointments, elections

November 04, 2006|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN REPORTER

With voters in more than a half-dozen Maryland counties poised to decide next week who will serve on their school boards, some Baltimore County candidates and local leaders say that residents of the jurisdiction, which has one of the state's largest school systems, deserve similar power.

State lawmakers and local elected officials are weighing several possibilities, including county executive or County Council appointments, and elected board members.

In Baltimore County, the governor appoints the board's 11 adult members - who must be county residents - to serve five-year terms. Four members serve at large, while seven serve from councilmanic districts. The governor also appoints a student member, who is nominated by students and school officials, to a one-year term.

"I don't think anyone in Annapolis is going to know the ins and outs of a local school system's needs," said Democratic state Sen. Delores G. Kelley, who failed last year to get a law passed that would have required Senate confirmation of gubernatorial school board appointments. "The county has the most vested, and often has to go deeper into its pockets. It should have a larger say."

Kelley said she favors a hybrid composition, with seven members appointed by the county executive and confirmed by the County Council, and four elected by quadrants established roughly by population.

The idea of an elected school board has been around for years, but some leaders say the start of a four-year gubernatorial cycle could improve chances of passing legislation in the 2007 General Assembly.

"Every year it has come up; at the last minute, it is dropped," said Del. Joseph J. "Sonny" Minnick. "I think this [Assembly session], with four years to go, you're going to see legislation introduced."

Republican Del. Patrick L. McDonough, who opposed Kelley's push for senatorial confirmations, said he supports a hybrid system because it would enable the county executive to provide "an intellectual balance" of various areas of expertise. But he opposes electing members by quadrant and would instead favor at-large elections to avoid factions.

"Education should not be administered by a group of elites who are appointed by powerful politicians," said McDonough, who is seeking re-election in the 7th District, which stretches from Middle River to parts of Harford County. "Election would make the board more accountable directly to the people and more accessible to the people."

McDonough - who would prefer to have seven of the board's members elected by councilmanic districts and four appointed by the county executive - said he thinks there is "an excellent possibility" that legislators could pass a bill next year.

The Maryland Association of Boards of Education takes no position on whether boards should be elected or appointed because no evidence exists to show that one form is more effective than the other, according to the organization's Web site.

Many leaders say that because the county provides the majority of the school system's funding, local officials are entitled to more say in who sets educational policy.

But money is the reason that MABE opposes arrangements that allow local government officials to appoint members.

"Local boards are entities of the state, not the county government," according to a statement on the group's Web site. "Because local boards are fiscally dependent on local governments, it is crucial that local boards remain an independent voice for children and their public educational needs."

Of the state's 24 school boards, 14 are elected - including Carroll and Howard - and eight are appointed by the governor. The boards for Baltimore City and Prince George's County are jointly appointed by the governor and local government officials.

Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver, whose 4th District includes Randallstown, said he wants each council member to appoint a board member, the county executive to appoint at least one member and voters to elect the rest.

Baltimore County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Democrat whose 5th District runs from Towson to the eastern edge of the county, said local leaders often feel left out of the loop.

"It's a broken process," Gardina said. "We need to have more local accountability."

He favors letting the county executive appoint most of the board and the governor fill remaining positions with the local legislative delegation's confirmation.

Former Councilman Wayne M. Skinner, a Republican opposing Gardina in next week's election, suggests having seven members selected in a nonpartisan election to represent each councilmanic district and four elected at-large.

"If something is not working the way you want it to work," he said, "it's time to consider changing it."

gina.davis@baltsun.com

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