By Alison Knezevich, The Baltimore Sun
8:31 PM EDT, October 6, 2011
A task force considering whether to change the way Baltimore County school board members are selected decided Thursday to take no position, sending the matter unresolved to state lawmakers.
At their final meeting, task force members said they could not agree on whether the school board should be appointed, elected or mixed. The governor now appoints the county's school board.
Some on the commission had pushed to make the board more accountable to voters, while others cautioned that minority representation would suffer if elected members were added.
The group supported a motion by state Sen. Bobby Zirkin to make no recommendation about how the school board should be selected. Zirkin said that is ultimately up to the General Assembly to decide.
"At the end of the day, this school board is a product of state law," said Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat.
The 12-person task force held its first public hearing this summer. Last month, some members took an unexpected vote on the selection issue, ruling out an elected or hybrid board. Members who supported a hybrid model weren't at that meeting to vote.
The committee now plans to submit a report to the county's Annapolis delegation within the next month, summarizing testimony from the hearings and the positions of task force members.
"It's going to be a big document," said Sen. Kathy Klausmeier, a Baltimore County Democrat who co-chaired the task force.
Sen. Delores Kelley, also a Baltimore County Democrat, said she felt that the group had not heard from enough people.
"I think that we don't know enough from enough different sectors of the body politic to do more than … what this motion suggests," she said of Zirkin's motion.
The group heard from 36 people over three public hearings, Kelley said, and "we heard the same testimony all three times."
She urged the public to pay attention to the issue when General Assembly starts its January session.
Del. Steve Lafferty, who co-chaired the task force, said he felt the group had no choice.
"While I'm quite disappointed that it has come to this point in time, I'm not sure that we have any other alternative," said Lafferty, a Baltimore County Democrat.
Many people "came in earnest" to public hearings, believing the task force would make a recommendation, said task force member Dunbar Brooks, a former state and county school board president.
"I understand what the legislators are doing," he said after the meeting. "But I feel bad for the public."
The task force's discussions have covered the size of the school board, how to ensure minority representation and other topics.
Abby Beytin, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said she understood the task force's decision.
"Before we decide to make a change, I would rather know that we're making a change for the better, rather than just making a change for change's sake," said Beytin, whose group hasn't taken a position on the issue.
Also Thursday, Jim Smith, a task force member and a former county executive, submitted a proposal to cut the size of the board from 11 members to nine and to reduce terms from five years to four. Smith's plan recommended that the governor appoint all members of the board, after getting suggestions from a nominating commission.
The task force didn't act on Smith's proposal.
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