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County executive voices opposition to elected school board

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz made the trip to Annapolis on Wednesday to speak against the senate bill that would make Baltimore County's Board of Education an elected body — saying the search for a new superintendent should stall any large-scale change in the board selection process.

"I'm suggesting that this bill not proceed," Kamenetz said before an evening meeting of the state Senate's Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee on Feb. 15.

"Baltimore County is presently undergoing a search for a new superintendent," he said, "and we believe that this is not the time to start changing the rules while we're trying to attract a strong candidate."

The bill, sponsored by District 11 Democrat Bobby Zirkin and District 5 RepublicanJ.B. Jennings, would alter the county's school board — which currently has 11 members appointed by the governor, and a 12th student member.

Under the proposal, the board would have 10 members — nine elected by voters, by district, and a student member.

At a meeting of the school board Feb. 7, current members of the board voted to oppose the bill for the same reason as Kamenetz. The board is looking for a replacement for Superintendent Joe Hairston, who will be retiring at the end of the school year after a dozen years leading Baltimore County's schools.

But Zirkin balked at the suggestion to wait, telling the committee that it was "high time" for the citizens of Baltimore County to be heard.

"For me, this is a very simple issue," Zirkin said. "Our citizens are deprived of the principle of democracy."

Kamenetz, however, said the bill was procedurally "not well thought out."

The county executive poked holes in the bill's language, which calls for full-scale turnover in the 2014 election and would require the creation of nine new districts for school board members from which to be voted.

Zirkin said an initial plan was to elect a school board member from each county councilmanic district, but he believed nine districts would prevent anyone from running in tandem with a councilman's campaign — a situation that some fear would politicize the process.

Though he has introduced similar legislation in the past, Zirkin said the bill was not meant to be an affront to any of the current members. But he said one thing became clear to him during meetings of a task force that studied the issue last summer — no statistical evidence existed that said student performance was affected negatively by a shift from appointed to elected school boards.

"There is, of course, a lot of anecdotal evidence about people's satisfaction with their school boards and responsiveness," Zirkin said. "It really is, from the data, all positive."

Kamenetz also touched on another reason some legislators have backed a change to an elected school board — the perception of a lack of responsiveness from the current board and superintendent.

"There have been some concerns about perhaps how Dr. Hairston communicated with legislators in the last several years," he said. "My suggestion here is not to throw the baby out with the bath water. I think we have made some good changes with the school board appointments that we have recently had, and I think they're much more receptive."

The bill was cross-filed in the House of Delegates, and is scheduled to come before their Ways and Means Committee at 1 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16.

As with the Senate version, the House measure has bipartisan support, with sponsors including Democrat Dels. Stephen Lafferty (District 42), Steve DeBoy (District 12A) and Dan Morhaim (District 11); and Republican Dels. Sue Aumann and Bill Frank (District 42), Joe Boteler (District 8), Wade Kach (District 5B) and Rick Impallaria and Pat McDonough (District 7).

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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