As session expires, partially elected school board bill dies

A last-ditch bargaining effort was not enough to overcome Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's opposition on Monday, April 9, as a bill that would have allowed some elected members on the county's Board of Education died on the House floor in the final hours of the 2012 General Assembly.

"All you have is the county executive standing out there denying Baltimore County, once again, of the right to participate in the democratic process as it relates to education," said District 11 Sen. Bobby Zirkin on Monday as the bill was still in committee.

"It's absolutely disappointing to watch the county executive act like this, and to watch this unravel the way it's unraveling. There's consensus among all the various parties here to move forward on a very balanced bill."

An amended version of the House bill, which would have created a board of six elected members and five appointed by the governor, was ultimately held in the House Ways and Means Committee until committee chairwoman Sheila Hixson, a Democrat from Montgomery County, freed it late Monday night.

However, the clock ran out at midnight on the 2012 session before a vote in the full House could be taken, and thus the measure died.

District 8 Del. Joe Boteler, who is on the Ways and Means Committee, said the committee rule is to hold local bills if there is any conflict between the local delegation and county government, but the bill was freed after vote-trading that also involved a gaming bill forPrince George's County.

Though he supports elected members of a school board and voted for it in the county delegation, Boteler didn't vote Monday night because he "did not support the process to get that bill out like they did."

"It's disappointing, because the will of the (county) delegation to pass the bill, and a committee chair from Montgomery County shouldn't be holding up a bill on a Baltimore County issue," said Sen. Jim Brochin of Towson on Monday evening before the bill was released.

The bill had passed the Baltimore County Senate delegation, 6-2, after Sen. Norman Stone Jr. switched his vote and supported the bill, and the House delegation 13-6, with two members not voting.

After getting the nod from the local delegation, it also passed in the Senate's Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, then the full Senate, last week.

But the House route proved rockier. Hixson acknowledged a letter of opposition she received from Kamenetz earlier in the session, and held the bill back from a committee vote until late Monday night. It eventually got out, but never made it to the House floor.

"The county executive is spending all of his lobbying chips getting this bill bottled up," Zirkin said earlier Monday. "I can't possibly explain that philosophy, other than the county executive doesn't want to have an elected or partially elected school board because they become more independent. In my mind, that's a good thing."

But Don Mohler, Kamenetz's chief of staff, told the Baltimore Sun that no one should be surprised about the county executive's stance on the bill.

Kamenetz had testified earlier in the session that he believed it was the wrong time to make a change because of a new superintendent coming on board in Baltimore County Public Schools. He also had said he felt an elected process for board members would be too political in nature, and could diminish minority representation on the board.

"He's met repeatedly with the delegation," Mohler told The Sun. "They were well aware of where he was on the issue."

The bill had support not only from members of the county delegation, but also from members of the County Council.

County Councilman David Marks, who represents the 5th District, which includes Towson, said he and Council Chairwoman Vicki Almond of the 2nd District both contacted members of the Ways and Means Committee to urge them to pass the bill.

Marks was one of four council members, along with Almond, 3rd District Councilman Todd Huff, and 6th District Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, who sent a letter to the leaders of a state-appointed task force in support of a hybrid school board last August.

"I can't tell you the number of constituents and other people in Baltimore County who want this bill so badly," said Del. Wade Kach of the 5th District on Monday. "We believe, and they believe, there's no accountability with the current board."

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