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Council members want task force to throw out vote that rejected an elected school board

Four County Council members last week called for the state task force studying the school board selection process to throw out its Sept. 9 vote eliminating the possibility of an elected or partially elected school board.

At least one member of the task force — State Sen. Bobby Zirkin — agrees, this week calling the task force's vote "horrible," and saying the task force overstepped its bounds.

"The task force was charged with going out and studying the issue, not to run this kangaroo legislature," Zirkin told the Towson Times. "I think what they did is illegal. It's got no force anyway, it's just a task force."

At the Sept. 9 meeting, nine members of the 12-member task force were present, and voted 6-3 to eliminate the option of an elected school, and to eliminate the idea of a "hybrid" model — in which some members would be elected while others would continue to be appointed by the governor.

In a letter sent Sept. 15, County Council members David Marks, Vicki Almond, Todd Huff and Cathy Bevins complained that the vote was taken without notice, and without the council's lone representative on the body, Council Chairman John Olszewski.

"We are writing to express disappointment with the events of the recent task force meeting," the council members wrote.

"We urge the task force to reverse this action and hold a fair, publicly advertised vote that includes the (County Council) representative ... and all members of the task force."

The letter was addressed to state Sen. Kathy Klausmeier and Del. Steve Lafferty, co-chairs of the task force.

The task force was formed after the 2011 General Assembly session to make a recommendation for possible change in the school board selection process. Any change has to be made by the legislature, guided by the county's delegation.

Possible reconsideration?

Lafferty said the task force might well reconsider the elected and/or hybrid option at its next meeting — tentatively scheduled for early October — but not because of the council letter.

He said some members, including Zirkin, have expressed concern about the vote, and may wish to bring it up again.

Lafferty said that at the meeting, the task force initially rejected a motion to leave the selection process as is. After that was defeated, former County Executive Jim Smith, who serves on the task force, moved to remove elected boards and hybrid option from consideration.

Zirkin, who has been a proponent of a hybrid board, said he'll try to bring it back to the table.

Along with Klausmeier and Lafferty, the task force includes state senators Zirkin, J.B. Jennings and Delores Kelley; and delegates Emmett Burns, Wade Kach and Dana Stein.

Olszewski serves as the council representative. Other members are Smith, former state delegate Jim Campbell and former school board president Dunbar Brooks.

At the Sept. 9 meeting, Olszewski, Kach and Jennings were absent. Lafferty, Zirkin and Stein were the dissenting votes.

Zirkin said he later switched his vote to the prevailing side so that he could introduce a motion to reconsider at the next meeting, but was told by Klausmeier that wasn't how the rules work. Zirkin disagrees.

"This isn't make-up-rules-as-you-go-along land," he said. "If you're going to operate under rules, you're going to operate under rules. ... Hopefully, these folks who are supposed to be serving the people of Baltimore County will come to their senses at the next meeting.

"If they don't, we'll see what happens."

Defending the process

Lafferty voted against the Smith motion. But he said tat, while he disagreed with the decision, he defended the vote. He said all of the absent members had been notified well in advance of the meeting and its location; he also noted that none of the meetings have been attended by every task force member.

He said the task force also discussed, and agreed upon, other important issues, including pressing the Board of Education for more public participation in its decision-making processes, and advocating for an orientation process for school board members, among other items.

He acknowledged, though, that the decision to actually vote on motions, includiing the one made by Smith, came as a surprise.

"Nobody had requested that a vote be included (on the agenda)," he said. "I don't know that we could have anticipated that there would be a vote."

In their letter to the task force, the four council members said school board elections deserve more consideration, and said the council's representative should be part of any decision.

"The issue of direct elections is central to any discussion of school board reform," wrote the council members. "There are different viewpoints among members of the County Council, but one thing is certain: Our representative should have been given the opportunity to vote."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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