Don't mess with Howard's school board system

No need for district/appointed hybrid when at-large elections have served the Howard County well

October 10, 2011|By Betsy Grater and Grace Kubofcik

In 1972, Howard County citizens voted to change from an appointed Board of Education to a nonpartisan, elected, at-large board. Since then, independent, elected boards have developed and supported educational policies that have created a school system considered to be among the best in the United States. Our schools are an economic asset as well as the primary reason families move to Howard County.

Sound education policy for Howard County Public Schools requires board members to understand and serve the entire county. Our board has been fortunate to have candidates representing all areas of our county. At-large elections have engaged the entire community in discussions of educational issues.

In the 2008 primary, there were seven candidates for school board of which two were minorities. They came from Columbia, Glenwood, Scaggsville and Ellicott City. In the 2010 primary, 11 candidates stood for election, residing in Columbia, Fulton, Hanover, West Friendship, Ellicott City, and Clarksville; again, two were minorities.

The Howard County Board of Education, between 2000 and 2010, benefited from the election and leadership of an African-American member. This was not an isolated experience. Other minorities have been elected and have served during the past 37 years. During that time, school board members have been accountable and shown leadership on the critical issue of educating students.

Proposed legislation, which will be debated tonight at a hearing of the Howard County legislative delegation, would provide for the appointment of two members by the county executive, with county council confirmation; and the elimination of at-large districts, replacing them with five members elected by county council district.

This plan would diminish the independence of the school board. The legislation provides, "The County Executive of Howard County shall endeavor to assure that the County Board reflects the race, gender, and ethnic diversity of the population of Howard County." The democratic election process is fundamental to our democracy. This legislative language is offensive to the citizens of Howard County; it implies that one individual's judgment exceeds that of the electorate.

Finally, the legislation is a three-step reduction of Howard County citizens' voting rights. Howard County voters currently, over a four-year cycle, elect seven members to the Board of Education. The legislation would reduce that to one district vote, with no vote on the two appointments. Additionally, there is no opportunity for the citizens of Howard County to vote on this proposed legislation. At a minimum, if we are to change the nonpartisan, at-large system for election of Board of Education candidates, it should be a ballot issue, as it was in 1972.

We urge the members of the Howard County delegation to the General Assembly to reject the proposed legislation and maintain the current nonpartisan, elected, at-large Board of Education.

Betsy Grater of Ellicott City is co-president of the Howard County League of Women Voters. Her email is Grace Kubofcik is a resident of Ellicott City. Also contributing to this article are Susan R. Buswell of Ellicott City, a former Howard County Board of Education member and former member of the House of Delegates; and Barbara Rudlin of Columbia, a former county Board of Education member.

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