Howard County Executive Ken Ulman announced a new commission Wednesday to re-evaluate the county's all-elected school board structure after hearing complaints about its lack of diversity.
The six-member commission chaired by former state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick will study Howard's school board structure and others in the state and submit recommendations to the county executive Sept. 26. Any changes to the board would have to go before the General Assembly for final approval.
"I have heard a lot about this from folks who don't think they have a voice," Ulman said. "I have heard from many people that they think there is a better system out there."
He noted that the issue was brought up by two residents — from North Laurel and Columbia — at his annual public forum held last week.
Howard's 51,000-student population is becoming increasingly diverse, with white students making up less than 50 percent of the county's school system; however its school board has no African-American members. The one nonwhite member is Brian Meshkin, who is Asian-American with a father born in Iran.
Patricia Gordon, a retired New York educator who became the first African-American board member in 15 years when she joined the formerly all-white body a decade ago, retired this year.
The seven-member school board also lacks geographic diversity with no representatives from heavily populated Columbia and Elkridge.
Candidates for Howard's elected school board must run countywide and without political party designation. The commission could suggest school board candidates run within a council district to increase geographical diversity.
One model the commission could explore is a mixed appointed and elected board, which is the system in Harford County.
"We have a great school system," Ulman said, but "we must, as a community, do everything we can to strengthen our school system."
School board Chairwoman Janet Siddiqui did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday.
In addition to Grasmick, Ulman named six others to the commission: Bianca Chang, principal of the Chinese Language School of Columbia; Patricia Dodson, a retired teacher; Kevin Doyle, a trustee at Howard Community College; Debbie Drown, a former principal at Gorman Crossing Elementary School; Lou Hutt, a former trustee at Howard Community College; and Paul Lemle, president of the Howard County Education Association.
Sen. James Robey and Del. Guy Guzzone will serve as ex officio members of the group.