City kills elected school board plan, but county delegation favors idea

March 12, 2010|By Julie Bykowicz | julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

Baltimore City delegates shot down Friday morning the idea of a partially elected school board, while their counterparts in Baltimore County favored a similar plan.

The city and county are two of the last remaining areas of the state with no elected representation on their local school boards, and reforming them has gained traction this year with state lawmakers. The Baltimore County delegation voted by the narrowest possible margin to back a "hybrid" school board of eight appointed members and seven elected members.

Eleven of the county's 21 delegates voted for a plan legislation crafted by Del. Dan K. Morhaim, a Democrat. Sens. Bobby A. Zirkin and James Brochin, both Baltimore County Democrats, have introduced identical legislation on the Senate side.

Zirkin said Thursday that he favors a hybrid board because "there are problems with both systems. Fully elected can become overpolitical, and fully appointed can become too aloof."

The fate of the House and Senate legislation is unclear. Although lawmakers often pass bills out of "local courtesy" when the local lawmakers support them, County Executive James T. Smith Jr., the county school board and education advocacy groups oppose changing the school board, and the lack of consensus could outweigh the delegation's wishes. However, Zirkin noted, teachers and parents widely support elected boards.

The Morhaim bill now moves to the House Ways and Means Committee, which in recent years killed an elected school board plan, even though the delegation supported it at that time, too.

"Local courtesy in this case is not a sure thing," Del. Eric M. Bromwell, a Democrat and county delegation leader, said Friday morning.

Meanwhile, the city delegation axed Del. Cheryl D. Glenn's legislation to create a mixed school board of elected and appointed leaders. Glenn and Del. Curt Anderson, the city delegation chairman, said Thursday that they expected the vote to be close.

But it wasn't. Just five of the city's 18 members voted in favor of it. Anderson said three delegates, including two who were expected to back Glenn's legislation, were absent, and nine voted against it. Anderson said he only votes in the event of a tie.

Anderson said fear of losing city schools CEO Andrés Alonso likely prompted the legislation's demise. Opponents of the bill had been concerned an elected school board might attempt to thwart Alonso, which would cause him to leave. Anderson also noted that delegates "were lobbied hard on this," with Baltimore Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, city business leaders and others calling delegates to urge them to leave the fully appointed school board alone.

An earlier version of this article gave the incorrect number of votes by the city delegation. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

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