By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun
8:22 PM EST, March 7, 2013
A series of bills in the Maryland General Assembly is part of a perennial attempt by Anne Arundel County lawmakers to change the selection process for the county's Board of Education.
Today, eight school board members serve overlapping five-year terms and are appointed by the governor. A ninth member — a student elected by student government and appointed by the governor — serves a one-year term. In 2007, legislators created a hybrid model in which those gubernatorial appointees face a retention vote. A commission forwards names of top choices to the governor, and voters have a yes-or-no vote on whether the appointee remains in place.
Senate Bill 107 and House Bill 971 would make the board a mix of elected and appointed members, eventually numbering 11 — seven elected from County Council districts; one student member and one each appointed by the governor, the county executive and the council.
House Bill 703 calls for a board with a different mix of elected and appointed members; and Senate Bill 108 calls for a ballot question to help determine whether voters prefer one makeup or another.
The Senate bills have been heard and will be voted on by the county's delegation at a later date; the House measures were scheduled for discussion this past week at the delegation meeting.
"I believe that the school board should have a majority of locally elected members, and supplemented with appointed members," said state Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire, a Pasadena Republican who sponsored both Senate bills. "The current system basically has no accountability to the people.
"Who controls the selection process is the main issue," he said. "Whether the governor is Republican or Democrat, they tend to heavily appoint individuals from their political party. Some like that system, while others ... prefer a system that more accurately reflects the composition of the county — instead of the political persuasion of the current governor."
Del. Steven R. Schuh, a Pasadena Republican who is chairman of the delegation's education subcommittee, co-sponsored House Bill 703 with a fellow Republican, Del. Tony McConkey of Severna Park.
"We've been deliberating over this issue for many years, and I would say that, as with many pieces of challenging legislation, progress is made slowly," Schuh said
Schuh said many would prefer to see the entire school board elected, but that can be hard to sell to the electorate as a whole.
"Elected school boards have the primary merit of being locally representative," Schuh said, "but in practice around the country, elected school boards sometimes lack necessary skills, for example in special education, or representation of the community.
"By having a hybrid board, I believe what we've structured is a board that would be primarily locally controlled by the voters, but would give the governor an opportunity to redress any shortcomings in terms of specific skills or representation of diverse communities through the appointment process."
The school board's president, Andrew Pruski, said the board has not taken a stance on lawmakers' efforts to alter the panel's makeup.
"We feel that we're a state agency and they're a legislature," he said.
"I'm not going to argue that we're not elected, but we do have a retention vote," Pruski added. "It's just not the governor [selecting] anybody he wants. There is a commission, you have interviews and you go through a panel. It is very detail-oriented. I think that having informed discussions with the public and knowing what's there is important."
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