School board overhaul backed

Majority of delegates back bill, but Zirkin says passage is `a long shot'

March 10, 2007|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN REPORTER

An overwhelming majority of Baltimore County's delegates voted yesterday in favor of a local bill that would overhaul the school board selection process and create a panel of elected and appointed members.

But as legislators enter the final weeks of the General Assembly session, one Baltimore County senator said the passage of a school board bill appears to be "a long shot."

The county's senators again delayed voting yesterday after killing one of three proposals, Senate Bill 79. Instead, they are considering drafting a single piece of legislation when they meet next week by combining elements of the two remaining bills -- one that calls for a hybrid board and another that would establish a nominating convention.

"In the Senate, there's consensus on one aspect, and that's that something needs to change," said Democratic Sen. Bobby A. Zirkin, whose Senate Bill 82 would create a board consisting of eight governor-appointed members and seven who would be elected by County Council districts.

"We're close [to passing a bill] in the Senate, too," said Zirkin, adding that he doesn't have the five votes he needs to move his original bill along. "It's a long shot, but I'm hopeful we can work something out."

He said one possibility is to create a hybrid board whose appointed members would be selected by a nominating convention. A compromise bill also could include a provision that would require the school board to be demographically representative of the county's student population, a key component of the bill that was killed.

School system records show that minorities make up 49.1 percent of the county's 106,182 students and that black students represent 81 percent of the minorities in the system. But only two of the board's 11 adult members are black.

Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., a Democrat whose District 6 includes Dundalk and Sparrows Point, said he isn't convinced that prospects are diminishing for a bill that would revamp the selection process.

"It's all on hold until our next meeting," said Stone, who co-sponsored the bill that was killed. "I was never in favor of a completely elected board. I would consider Zirkin's bill."

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

Sponsors say the proposals would increase the public's ability to decide who serves on the school board and ensure greater accountability.

"All of this is really speaking to the citizen involvement," said Democratic Del. Dan K. Morhaim, whose District 11 includes Owings Mills, Pikesville and Reisterstown.

Morhaim, one of seven delegates who sponsored House Bill 71, which calls for a hybrid board, said the delegation's 14-4 vote was "a strong statement to move in this direction."

He said House members opposed Senate confirmation of appointed board members because it would mean legislators statewide would vote on the school board's makeup. The delegates also were concerned that Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier's bill calling for a nominating convention didn't indicate how the panel would be selected, who would serve on it or how it would function.

The delegates' bill now goes to the House Ways and Means Committee, which is expected to pass it without further debate, Morhaim said.

Proposed school board legislation

Senate Bill 79

Sens. Delores G. Kelley, James Brochin and Norman R. Stone Jr.

Governor would appoint 12 members - four selected from the county at large, one from each of 7 councilmanic districts and one student member from the county at large. Confirmation by the state Senate would be required and the board's makeup would have to reflect the demographic composition of the county's student population.

Senate Bill 99

Sens. Katherine A. Klausmeier and Andrew P. Harris

The board would consist of 12 appointed members - four selected from the county at large, one from each councilmanic district and one student member from the county at large. The bill establishes a School Board Nominating Convention to recommend prospective candidates to the governor.

Senate Bill 82 (Cross-filed with House Bill 71)

Sen. Bobby A. Zirkin

The board would consist of 15 members. Eight would be appointed - one from each of the 7 councilmanic districts and one student member. The other seven nonpartisan members would be elected, one for each councilmanic district.

Source: Maryland General Assembly Web site (

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