School board change stalls

Lawmakers divided on proposal seeking election of members

General Assembly

March 11, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

Harford County's proposal to change the state-appointed school board to an elected one is unlikely to come to a vote in the legislature, according to the chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee, where the bill is languishing.

The bill is stalled in the committee and appears unlikely to move to a full vote in the House of Delegates before the 2007 session ends in less than a month.

Opposition from leaders in both the House and Senate as well as from the county's school board, and the lack of a clear majority among the county's eight delegates does not bode well for the bill, said Del. Sheila E. Hixson, a Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the committee.

"We know there is a lot of controversy surrounding this issue," Hixson said. "All the interested parties should be on the same page. If they can't get it together, then it probably won't move out of committee."

Legislators typically pass bills that have the support of the delegation out of a tradition of local courtesy. But a divided delegation passed the proposal by a 5-3 vote, and the county school board criticized the bill.

"The chair does not feel our delegation is unanimous in wanting to move forward with this bill," said Republican Del. Barry Glassman, the bill's sponsor. "She also is reluctant to send it to the Senate, if it looks like it will be killed there."

Billy Boniface, Harford County Council president, undertook a last-minute effort to save the bill. He wrote to Hixson on Friday at the request of the council, which almost unanimously supports the measure. But, he said, he is not optimistic.

"I have been around the legislature long enough to know that if a bill has not moved out of Ways and Means by now, it is not going to," Boniface said. "But this is the will of the council."

He asked Hixson to move the bill, which Boniface said reflects the will of Harford voters.

Harford's proposed change in the school board is one of four bills stalled in the legislature dealing with the issue. Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties, and Baltimore City also have bills pending. Like Harford's, those bills have yet to come to a full vote in the legislature. The end of the 2007 session is less than a month away, and leadership in both the House and Senate has voiced opposition to elected school boards.

Glassman said he initiated the bill in response to parents' complaints that the board is not accountable to the electorate.

"An elected board is the best way to go," Glassman said. His proposal would expand the seven-member board to 11, with six members elected from current County Council districts, three appointed - two by the governor and one by the county executive - and the superintendent and student representative continuing to serve as ex officio members.

The transition would occur in phases and coincide with expiring terms of current board members. The governor would appoint two members this summer to replace those whose terms expire before the bill would become law Oct. 1. In 2008, voters in council districts A, C and E would fill three seats. Two years later, candidates would run for seats representing districts B, D and F.

Proponents of an elected board said failure in this legislative session will not deter them. Glassman vowed to bring the issue back next year.

"This year we have opened the door to discussion, and we know something has to happen," Boniface said. "We all will work hard over the summer to come up with consensus."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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