Board debate continues

July 13, 2008|By Madison Park | Madison Park,Sun Reporter

A debate over an elected school board persists after Gov. Martin O'Malley named two new members to the Harford County Board of Education last week, bypassing the recommendations from a committee of local officials.

Alysson L. Krchnavy, a PTA parent and Leonard Wheeler, a retired educator, were named to the school board Wednesday. Neither had been recommended by a temporary committee that reviewed school board candidates for the job.

Supporters of an elected school board say that the governor's appointments prove that the citizens of Harford County have no input in the selection process.

"We have special-interest groups and individuals who have the ear of the governor and get the nod to be the Board of Education members without any input from citizens and elected officials," said Richard Slutzky, a Republican county councilman who created the temporary committee that reviewed and nominated the candidates. "It's extremely disappointing and concerning for the people of Harford County."

Slutzky created the committee several months ago after complaints that the road to school board appointment was a secretive, back-door, political process based on political connections.

He proposed that the Harford County Board of Education Recommendation Committee, made up of two representatives of the county executive, a delegate, a state senator and three members from the County Council, publicly interview school board candidates. The committee had no authority to force the governor to accept its recommendations, and it was to exist temporarily until a permanent process could be established.

The panel was far from perfect, said Harford County Democratic Central Committee Chairman Michael Comeau, who described the group as "made up mostly of GOP politicos and/or their appointees."

"Unlike Anne Arundel County, which recently had more than 20 applicants for two school board vacancies, the Slutzky group could only muster five applicants, and the pool was not diverse geographically or otherwise," he said. "The process was rushed with no input from the public. Asking the applicants their opinion on an elected versus appointed school board confirmed suspicions that the committee was actually a political vehicle - not a group solely interested in merit or qualifications to serve."

The committee interviewed five candidates Monday. After all candidates were interviewed, the committee voted unanimously in a closed-door session, choosing Nancy Reynolds, an educator with 31 years of experience, as its top recommendation.

During her interview, she talked about how daunting it is for parents to cut through education jargon, as well as her former middle school's outreach efforts to make it more family-friendly.

Reynolds worked her way from a reading specialist at Havre de Grace Middle School to an assistant principal at Edgewood Middle School before becoming a principal at Bel Air Middle School for the past 10 years. She also voiced support for an elected school board.

The committee, by a vote of 4-3, picked its second nominee as Dr. Mohammad Reza Shahab, a retired educator who coordinated vocational education in District of Columbia public schools.

Republican state Sen. Barry Glassman, who represents North Harford, said he was not surprised by the outcome of the appointment process because "no one is bound by recommendations, and there were other folks talking to governor's staff, lobbying for appointment."

Glassman said he believes most of Harford County supports a blend of elected and appointed school board members.

Comeau said that Republicans and Democrats need to work together to develop a consensus to address the future selection of school board members.

"Many citizens think that setting policy impacting our children's education is far too important a task to be determined by who can post the most signs or raise the most money in a campaign," he said.

Glassman said the issue of appointed-versus-elected school board is not a partisan issue. "Some folks try to use that as a wedge argument," he said. "...The support for elected school board cuts across both parties."

Wheeler is a former member of the Harford County Democratic Central Committee who lost his bid for a County Council seat in 2006. Krchnavy, who is a newcomer to public life, is a registered Republican, according to county election records.

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