Though past and present board members didn't see the need for a change, several minorities who testified did.

"Diversity is not a bad word, and I think representation means everything," Myra Gomez, of Elkridge, said. "The school board members are doing a good job, but when a child looks up, he needs to see someone who looks like him."

Gomez did not support any particular solution, but others proposed structures they felt would better promote diversity.

Representatives from the African American Coalition of Howard County and the Howard County chapter of the NAACP supported election by district, which they said creates a better opportunity for both cultural and geographical diversity.

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Del. Frank Turner, the only non-white member of the Howard County delegation, supported a hybrid board with two appointed members and five or more elected members.

"There needs to be a voice from the minority community that can speak up on certain issues," he said. "If we do nothing, we'll find ourselves back here four years from now having the same discussion, and I do not want that to happen."

Ellicott City resident Larry Walker, who unsuccessfully ran for school board in 2010, also voiced support for a hybrid model, with two appointed members and others elected by district. He also supports limiting board members to no more than three consecutive four-year terms.

Commission's thoughts

At its Sept. 8 meeting, the commission discussed the district and the hybrid models.

Electing board members by district, commission members said, would guarantee geographic diversity. But they also noted several disadvantages.

"You can have a Hispanic, an Asian and an African American, all of whom are really terrific, (running in the same district) and you can only elect one of them," member Kevin Doyle said.

Felicita Sola-Carter said districts would create more partisanship and would move the board away from "all-for-one-and-one-for-all" thinking.

"I still have an open mind on it, but I'm not sure the pros of districts outweigh the cons," she said.

A hybrid model with some appointed members is the only way to guarantee cultural diversity, the commission noted. But if they were to chose that model, members said they would want to define criteria for how appointed members are selected.

Lemle proposed ideas for improving the quality of the board that do not involve changing the board's structure. His suggestions included improving compensation, providing a stipend in cases of financial need, having the candidates names appear on the ballot in random order rather than alphabetically, and creating an internship for potential candidates.

But putting names on the ballot in random order would not work, said state Del. Guy Guzzone, an ex-officio commission member, because that involves changing a state law that would affect ballots in every Maryland jurisdiction.