School board selection panel is set

June 01, 2008|By Madison Park | Madison Park,Sun Reporter

Most of the members of a committee to recommend candidates for the county's school board were selected last week.

The committee's job is to interview candidates interested in a spot on the school board and make recommendations to the governor's appointment office, but it cannot force the governor to take its suggestions.

Councilman Richard C. Slutzky emphasized that the group, which will likely be called the Board of Education Selection Committee, will exist for one year, unless the County Council renews the committee next year.

The Harford County Council approved a resolution in May to establish the temporary committee, to be composed of seven county officials. Slutzky introduced the measure after a bill to bring a blend of elected and appointed Board of Education members to Harford County failed in the state legislature this year.

"We're trying to establish this as a temporary procedure until we have a different option, and hopefully that option will be an elected Board of Education," he said. "We have, as a council, sent a letter to the governor's office explaining what we've done and sent the copy of the resolution. It is the hope of the committee that the governor will value the resource of making this appointment."

The selection committee will contain: three County Council members, Slutzky, Dion F. Guthrie and James V. McMahan; two from the county executive branch, Roxanne Lynch, director of government and community relations for the county, and Frank Boston, human relations manager for the county's division of community services; a Harford County delegate; and a county state senator, a post that will be shared by Sen. Barry Glassman and Sen. Nancy Jacobs.

There are two seats on the seven-member school board up for appointment this year, since the five-year terms for Salina M. Williams and Thomas L. Fidler, the president of the county's Board of Education, are expiring this summer. Fidler is not seeking reappointment, but Williams has expressed interest in another term.

While Fidler, a staunch advocate for appointed school boards, and political officials who support an elected school board disagree on the issue, they concur that there is no mechanism for community say in how board members are currently appointed.

The temporary committee is "a good effort to bridge the conflict" in the elected-versus-appointed debate, but lacks a crucial component, Fidler said.

"Where are the PTA parents? Where is the community? Where is the business community?" he asked.

Jerome Foster, vice president for the Harford County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, concurred and said the temporary selection committee "is stacked with political people sympathetic to an elected school board. We should have the permanent nominating caucus for these two appointments," he said.

For years, a permanent nominating caucus, made up of community groups and parents, reviewed candidates for school board appointments. That group fell apart when the governor began ignoring their nominees.

The purpose of the temporary school board selection committee is not to revive the permanent nominating caucus, but "to provide the politically elected community an opportunity to recommend candidates," Slutzky said. For years, candidates seeking appointment to the school board wrote letters to the governor's office and approached county officials about getting a recommendation.

"I've been asked to make recommendations, but I'm reluctant if I don't know if there are better candidates out there," he said. "If elected officials are being asked to make recommendations, we should know the pool of the applicants, so we can make recommendations for those we feel are the most qualified."

Cindy Mumby, a parent advocate for an elected school board, said the committee is a way to "pull back the curtain."

"Local elected officials make recommendations to the governor, and they used to do it behind the curtain. Now they're doing it in the open," she said. "...This makes it a little bit more acceptable, until we have an elected school board."

Glassman, who will serve on the temporary committee, sponsored a Senate bill for a blended school board during this year's General Assembly session. The bill passed in the Senate, but never made it through the House.

Don Morrison, spokesman for the Harford County Public Schools system, said that the superintendent, Jacqueline C. Haas, has not taken a position on the temporary committee.

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