School board bill dies in Baltimore, advances in Balto. Co.

March 13, 2010|By Julie Bykowicz | julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

Baltimore delegates rejected Friday 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 changing 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 in favor of legislation crafted by Del. Dan K. Morhaim, a Democrat. Sens. Bobby A. Zirkin and James Brochin, Baltimore County Democrats, have introduced identical legislation in the Senate.

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

The fate of the House and Senate legislation is unclear. Though lawmakers often pass bills out of "local courtesy" when local lawmakers support them, Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. and the county school board oppose changing the board, and the lack of consensus could outweigh the delegation's wishes.

Zirkin said 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.

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

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. 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 expressed concern that an elected school board might attempt to thwart Alonso, causing him to leave.

Anderson said 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 appointed school board alone.

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