Questions For School Hopefuls

In Wake Of Morris Case, State Board Develops Ways Of Improving Vetting Of City Candidates

July 02, 2009|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,

The Maryland State Board of Education has developed a series of questions it will ask city school board candidates about their backgrounds, a result of revelations several weeks ago that the former board chair had a troubled financial background.

The first changes to the vetting process for the three-year volunteer term on the city school board include asking whether the candidates have paid their taxes, have been convicted of a crime, have a civil judgment against them or have been disbarred from practicing law or had a professional license revoked.

Besides those specific questions, candidates will be asked: "Is there anything that the state board should know about you that has the potential for causing embarrassment to the citizens of Baltimore City if you were selected?"

The candidates who answer yes to the question will be asked why they should be considered for the job.

The board will verify the answers are accurate, but only for those candidates being seriously considered, said Anthony L. South, who works as a staff administrator for the state board.

He said the series of questions, which have not been asked before, would be only part of the new vetting process. State board chairman James DeGraffenreidt said in an e-mail this week that the board still has not decided what the entire process would include.

Last month, Brian Morris, the chairman of the city school board, stepped down from his volunteer post just hours before his fellow board members voted to give him a $175,000-a-year job managing operations of the city school system. Schools CEO Andr?s Alonso, who had supported the appointment, did not check into Morris' background before he was hired for the newly created, unadvertised job.

Public criticism of the Morris appointment poured in from people who said it looked like cronyism, and Morris resigned from the job a day after it was revealed that the developer had a long history of bad debts, foreclosures and other financial problems.

Appointments to the three-year terms on the city school board are made each year jointly by the governor and the mayor from a list supplied to them by the state school board. But it has not been clear who was responsible for vetting the candidates for the jobs. After Morris' resignation, the governor, mayor and state board members all said they believed someone else was responsible for vetting the candidates.

DeGraffenreidt then said the state board would better screen candidates who were on the list given to the mayor and governor.

Also this week, the state board has placed notices on several Web sites, including its own, saying that it is seeking candidates for the city board. Originally, the board said it had received enough applicants without advertising. The deadline for applications is July 13.

Currently, Morris' seat is the only vacancy; however, two other positions could become open if two current members are not reappointed for a second three-year term.

The board has interviewed three candidates whom Alonso encouraged to apply for the position.

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