By Alison Knezevich, The Baltimore Sun
April 10, 2012
Legislation to add elected members to the Baltimore County school board failed in the General Assembly late Monday, amid intense opposition from County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.
The state Senate passed a measure last week to add six elected members to the all-appointed panel, but the bill died in the House of Delegates in the final hours of the legislative session.
School board selection has been hotly debated in Baltimore County. The governor now appoints the members with input from the county executive. Under the proposal that passed the Senate, the board would have six elected and five appointed members.
Proponents say that elected members would make the panel more accountable and responsive to the public. Opponents have raised concerns that an elected board would not reflect students' diversity and contend that appointed members are better able to make tough decisions because they don't face elections.
State Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a Pikesville Democrat who has repeatedly introduced bills to add elected members to the school board, said Kamenetz "spent a lot of political capital down here lobbying to have [the bill] killed because he, for the present time, has control over the school board."
Zirkin said Kamenetz's lobbying against the bill made the county look bad because a majority of members on the county's House and Senate delegations have expressed support for either a fully or partially elected board.
"When you come down here and publicly fight the delegation … it doesn't look like the county can get things together," Zirkin said.
Don Mohler, Kamenetz's chief of staff, said no one should be surprised about the county executive's stance on the bill.
"He's met repeatedly with the delegation," Mohler said. "They were well aware of where he was on the issue."
In a letter to House Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Sheila Hixson, Kamenetz cited the concerns of the Baltimore County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Baltimore Jewish Council and previous county executives. "I am extremely concerned that introducing an elective component will introduce racial and religious tensions where none exist today," Kamenetz wrote.
"I also believe that an elected board (that has no separate taxing authority) will advocate fiscally irresponsible positions, creating an adversarial relationship with County government."
He also wrote that now is not the time to make a "drastic change" on the school board, given the recent hiring of new superintendentS. Dallas Dance.
Nationwide, about 95 percent of school boards are elected, according to the National School Boards Association. In Maryland, most local boards are fully elected.
Del.John Olszewski Jr., a Democrat who chairs the county's House delegation, said lawmakers had worked hard to include provisions in the legislation that would ensure diverse representation on the board.
"Ultimately, I think that this is about accountability," Olszewski said. "When folks know that they have to go back and answer to the public, they're more responsive and accountable."
Many parents who have pushed for elected members have said they believe it would make the board more accountable. Julie Sugar, a parent of a Loch Raven High School student, said the board didn't respond when parents complained about lack of air conditioning in schools and prohibitions on holding a crafts fair.
"We ended up in both situations having to go to our elected leaders for an intervention because the school board was not responsive to us," Sugar said. "They aren't placed on the board by the people, so they are not responsive to the people."
Sugar said she understands the concerns of those who say an elected board might not have minority representation but believes the hybrid board satisfies the concern.
In October, a task force set up by the General Assembly to explore the selection of the school board finished its work without making any recommendation.
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