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Flawed system or no interest? [Editorial]

The Aegis

This year marks the third time Harford County residents will elect a majority of the members of the local Board of Education.

When the filing deadline closed last week for the June 26 primary election, no more than two candidates had filed for any of the six seats on the school board that conform geographically to the six county council districts. In both District A, covering Joppa and Edgewood, and District B, covering Fallston and Abingdon, just a single candidate filed in each.

Under the law passed by the Maryland General Assembly 14 years ago, all these candidates will advance to the November general election, rendering the primary a useless exercise. Had there been three or more candidates for a particular seat, then the top two finishers would have advanced.

Many people have criticized the state law passed by the Maryland General Assembly in the 2000s that created Harford County’s so-called blended or hybrid board of education consisting of six elected members and three members appointed by the governor. The entire mechanism is indeed confusing, from the way the law was brought in two phases between the 2010 and 2014 elections to the fact that all nine school board terms don’t begin until seven months after the election to the aforementioned nonpartisan primary election system.

We supported this law when it finally passed under the belief that Harford County residents should have a more direct say in picking members of this important body that oversees the public school system, rather than just having the governor, acting on the advice of local legislators and other politicians, fill all nine seats, which had been the system for decades.

We accepted the rationale of the blended board bill’s primary sponsor, then state senator and now county executive Barry Glassman, that the Democratic majority in the legislature at the time would not pass an all-elected board bill for heavily Republican Harford County with its relatively small minority voting population. Keeping three seats appointed was a way to give a governor, political party notwithstanding, an opportunity to balance the board’s composition with members of racial or other minorities if that governor so chose and felt it necessary.

Considering that an African-American was elected to one seat on the board in 2010 and again in 2014 and is going to be elected in 2018 because current board member Jansen Robinson does not have an opponent in District A, it would seem fears about not having minorities represented may have been a bit overblown.

What continues to concern us about this current hybrid elected/appointed system is we don’t think a majority of county residents understand how it works or that it’s supposed to be a very open process to interest people in serving.

Being a school board member is a huge responsibility, one we would argue is more important than serving on the County Council or any other political body at the county or state level. It’s a volunteer job, however, one that requires long hours, has no pay and a is accompanied by a lot of public scrutiny and accordant criticism. Does the word “thankless” come to mind with that description?

The current board will lose at least four of its members when this term expires in July 2019, more possibly, depending who is elected in November and who gets the three appointed seats afterward. We would have thought there would be considerably more interest in serving, but perhaps not. Is the system flawed, or the position, or both? While we can’t say for certain, we do think the dearth of candidates this year is a strong indication the system needs a wholesale review before the next election cycle arrives in 2022.

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