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The Baltimore Sun

Elected, hybrid models could rise again for school board task force

The task force charged with examining the selection process for the Baltimore County Board of Education will meet to discuss a potential resolution on Thursday, Oct. 6, 4 p.m., at the Randallstown Community Center.

One member of the task force, Del. Bobby Zirkin, said Monday he hopes the panel will use the occasion to reverse what he calls the board's "horrible" decision last month.

At its Sept. 9 meeting, members voted 6-3, with three members absent, to rule out both an elected and partially elected board among the options it'll recommend to the county's delegation to Annapolis. The motion to eliminate those options was made by former County Executive Jim Smith, a member of the panel.

But Zirkin said he's not hopeful for change on Thursday.

"What I expect will happen is, unfortunately, some members of the task force will simply do what they were put there to do and be against any change — despite the fact that it's clear that an overwhelming percentage of the county would like some elected, if not fully elected, school board," Zirkin said.

Currently, all members of the school board are appointed by the governor, but early this year, the county's delegation to Annapolis appointed the task force to consider other options. Any change in the board's selection process must be approved in Annapolis.

Del. Steve Lafferty, who co-chairs the task force along with state Sen. Kathy Klausmeier, said that although the 12-member task force missed its Oct. 1 deadline to report back to Gov. Martin O'Malley, he hopes a resolution will come Thursday.

"I hope we can reach some consensus, or maybe even take a vote if we have to come up with a proposed solution, so the contention that existed is eliminated," Lafferty said. "That would be my ideal situation."

Lafferty noted that the three members who were not in attendance Sept. 9 — state Sen. J.B. Jennings and Del. Wade Kach, the task force's only two Republicans; and County Council Chairman John Olszewski Jr. — will all be in attendance this week.

That's a change that could allow for a change in last month's vote to eliminate a fully elected board or a hybrid model, in which some members would be elected and others appointed, from the options.

Whatever happens, Zirkin said all of the power in the matter ultimately rests with the state legislature.

"This task force has no authority: It never did and never will," Zirkin said. "The legislators will go down there (Annapolis) and do what they believe.

"The task force turned out to be a waste of time," he said, "because it's become, in and of itself, an issue."

Zirkin said the task force should stop voting and work on filing a report for the legislature that takes into account testimony from experts and the citizens, not the opinions of the task force members.

The task force, he said, was "created for the purpose of studying the issue and gathering testimony from the public."

One member of the public, Julie Sugar, president of the Loch Raven High School PTA, said she hopes the task force "will take all the speakers and all the letters that they've received into account, and recognize that the people of Baltimore County want some — at least some — elected members on their school board."

"I'm hoping very much that at this next meeting, they overturn this vote from the last meeting and decide to talk about it again, and put the hybrid concept back on the table," Sugar said. "That's what the citizens of Baltimore County have been saying they want."

Council Members David Marks, Todd Huff, Cathy Bevins and Vicki Almond sent a letter to the task force on Sept. 15 asking for the votes from its previous meeting to be thrown out on the grounds that their lone representative, Olsewski, was not present.

Zirkin said Olszewski was initially against any change in the board selection process but has shown a willingness to compromise.

Sugar, who has attended each of the task force's meetings, sees Olszewski's presence as important.

"I'd like to see Councilman Olszewski represent the rest of the council in this whole process," she said.

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