Del. Tony McConkey, a Severna Park Republican, is sponsoring four bills in the General Assembly that would give Anne Arundel County residents the right to choose at least some members of the school board.
McConkey says his ultimate goal is to see voters select the entire nine-member school board. For now, he is seeking a formula that would scrap the current process, in which eight board members are appointed by the governor from a list of nominees submitted by a county panel. The ninth member, a high school student, is selected by the county's Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils.
McConkey's bills are all in various stages of review by the county delegation and General Assembly.
The first bill calls for an 11-member hybrid board that consists of eight appointed board members, two elected members and a student member. Another bill would require that appointed school board members seeking to remain on the panel after serving their terms be subject to contested elections.
A third bill would require that a question be placed on the November general election ballot asking Anne Arundel voters whether they prefer changing the current school board selection process from governor-appointed to voter-selected.
And then there's another hybrid bill that calls for seven members elected from each of the county's councilmanic districts; three at-large appointed members; and one student member.
McConkey's efforts come at a time when several local school systems have examined changing the way their board members are selected.
Last year, Howard County considered revamping its current at-large, elected board to a hybrid model with two appointed members and five elected by district. The measure was sponsored by Del. Frank Turner amid concerns by some residents that there was a lack of geographical and racial diversity on the board. But the proposal faced strong opposition, and the measure was withdrawn.
Baltimore County formed a task force to consider changing the way its board is selected, but that group decided not to take a position.
McConkey said of his efforts in Anne Arundel, "The goal of all of the bills is to simply get a greater election component to the school board. It's my goal and my desire to have a fully elected school board, but we haven't been able to get the votes for that."
At their Wednesday meeting, school board members discussed the bill that would create a hybrid panel with election by councilmanic districts.
Many of the board members, who say they cannot take a formal position on the bill, offered their opinions about McConkey's measure.
Board member Amalie Brandenburg said she favored the bill.
"I love it. Something's got to give," said Brandenburg. "At some level, there has to be some accountability. I personally feel that there is no recourse if we make a decision that people are unhappy about. It's not as if you can vote us out."
Other members voiced concerns about the cost of changing the panel's makeup. "A big piece that happens is that people aren't clear about the cost of adding or expanding," said board member Andrew Pruski.
Board President Patricia Nalley agreed. "We would have to reconfigure; is it going to come with money to reconfigure?" she asked. "Any time a bill like that comes up, you want to know why."
Some board members wondered whether those who are pushing for changes want a partisan body. But McConkey said he wants the board to remain nonpartisan and that voter representation is just part of the reason he would like to see elected members.
"Every four years we have an election, and you go out, you knock on doors and you talk to people," he said. "You have to get down in the weeds with your constituents and really discuss the issues. I think that's a very useful exercise for board members. I think that our board members are too insulated. I think it would be helpful to have them go through the process."
Also at their meeting Wednesday, the board voted to approve Superintendent Kevin Maxwell's recommended operating budget for the 2013 fiscal year, which would add more than 60 teaching positions and fully fund negotiated agreements with employee unions.
The board adopted the superintendent's $968 million operating budget by a 7-1 vote, with Brandenburg the sole opponent. Board member Solon Webb was not present.
"It's essentially a policy issue with maintenance of effort, and it's not working," said Brandenburg, referring to a state requirement that local governments maintain at least the same per-pupil funding level as the previous year. "It's inappropriate to continue to fund our operating budget that way."
The board voted unanimously to adopt Maxwell's $198.2 million capital budget recommendation, which contains $120 million for construction projects at 10 schools.
Nalley said she thought the budget was "fair based on our input of what a lot of citizens want," but she added that she would like to see how many teachers it would take to bring class sizes back to where they were about seven years ago.
"What we hear from parents, over and over, is class size, class size, class size. What would it take? Those 62 positions are going to help, but it's not going to put us back to the class sizes we enjoyed seven years ago or so," she said.
But Anne Arundel budget officer John Hammond said tough economic times mean that "we can't go back seven years. In case no one's noticed, we're in a recession. In case no one's noticed, the Maryland legislature is talking about throwing us unfunded mandates like teacher pensions.
"The good old days were exactly that, the good old days," Hammond added. "I have to deal with the reality of today, and the reality of today is that we have fewer resources to deal with more demand."
The school board's budget recommendation will be forwarded to County Executive John R. Leopold, who will present his proposal to the County Council in April. The County Council adopts its budget in May, and the school board approves a final school system budget in June.