An elected school board for Baltimore County might not be such a great idea after all

If you think turmoil in Baltimore County’s school system can’t get worse, hold off a minute. For the first time, voters this year will elect a majority of the school board that oversees classroom management.

That may not work out so well.

But, wait. Isn’t it good that county residents now will decide who sits on the school board? Why let the governor make those appointments?

In theory, it always is best to let the ballot box rule. Education, however, is one area where the less politics involved, the better the outcome.

We run a risk of electing school board members who might come to the job with an ideological agenda, either from the far left or far right.

Come November, seven of the 12 Baltimore County school board members will be elected by district. The governor will choose four more from a list submitted by a local nominating commission. The 12th member will be a student representative.

By Feb. 4, just five candidates had filed in the seven districts. Hopefully a rush of exceptionally qualified applicants will make the Feb. 27 deadline.

If more than two file in either District 2 or District 4 — our neck of the woods — there will be a primary election June 26 to determine the finalists on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Though these races are billed as nonpartisan, some candidates will be expressing partisan-sounding views.

That’s where public emotion could unwisely come into play.

Anger over the alleged misconduct of now-indicted former superintendent Dallas Dance might lead to conservative candidates sweeping into office. Or, low turnout could play a role in electing some less-than-virtuous candidates.

Some politicians may try to use the school board elections as a springboard to higher office. They might create controversies to make a name for themselves and turn board meetings into publicity contests.

Some elected board members may believe they have a voter mandate to micromanage the school system and interfere in the day-to-day operations.

That’s why keeping politics far from school governance has distinct advantages.

The Dance debacle, on the heels of Joseph Hairston’s disappointing tenure as superintendent, raises concerns about the school board’s ability to supervise school administrators.

But think how much worse this could be with politicians and ideologues dominating board meetings.

The current board has some quality members.

For instance, chairman Ed Gilliss has practiced law in Towson for 35 years, presided over the county Planning Board for six years and chaired the board of St. Joseph Medical Center.

District 2’s appointed representative is Emory Young of Reisterstown, an engineer with Verizon (his master’s degree is from Johns Hopkins). He is a former president of the PTA Council of Baltimore County.

District 4’s member is Charles McDaniels Jr., who worked 33 years for Bethlehem Steel as a metallurgical engineer and holds an MBA from Loyola University of Maryland.

David Uhlfelder, a CPA, is on the board of the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce and serves as board treasurer of Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital.

These appointees, carefully vetted by elected leaders, are not politicians and might not wish to engage in a grueling, time-consuming election campaign.

We may end up with a board of considerably less competence.

That’s the chance we take in electing school board members.

Given that this will be the first school board election in Baltimore County’s history, it is important for voters to take extra time to learn about the candidates and cast their ballots wisely. Much is riding on their verdict.

Barry Rascovar’s blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com.

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