Citizens say diversity, accountability are crucial in school board selection

Residents and representatives of county organizations said last week that diversity and accountability are their highest priorities regarding any potential change in how county's Board of Education members are selected.

In the first of its three public meetings, the 12-member Task Force on the Membership and Operation of the Baltimore County Board of Education met July 6 at Reisterstown Library to field public comment on the school board process.

The task force held its second meeting July 7 in Essex. The final meeting will be Monday, July 25, atTowson Library, 320 York Road, 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Currently, members of the school board are appointed by the governor, but the task force is considering whether members should instead be elected by voters, a mix of elected and appointed, or picked by some other process.

"We're concerned about diversity," Judy Miller, chair of the education policy committee for the Baltimore County League of Women Voters, told the task force.

Miller said the current 13-member board (including the student member) is "reasonably diverse," but the league's concern is that if the process of selecting the Board of Education changes, that the level of diversity doesn't move in the wrong direction.

"We wanted to ensure that everyone had a voice at the table," she said.

Miller said a hybrid board — some members appointed, other elected — might be preferable, but said the league hadn't taken a position.

"I think we all know that none of us knows what the perfect system is," she said.

Barbara Dezmon, education committee chair for the Baltimore County chapter of the NAACP for more than 20 years, said her organization has also not taken a position on how board members should be selected.

But she, too, is concerned about diversity. Dezmon said she is less concerned about having black faces on the board than she was about "safety and representation."

She added that she doesn't want any group in the county to end up feeling "racially disenfranchised."

About 30 members of the public and representatives of organizations attended the meeting at the library, where the sound of window air-conditioning units made it difficult for task force members to hear comments from the public, and vice-versa.

What was easy to hear was that people who attended are not pleased with the way things are.

Abby Beytin, president-elect of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, a teachers union, said she feels there is currently a barrier between school board members and everyone else.

"You can no longer email them directly," Beytin said. "It has to go through their secretary."

Retiree and Pikesville resident Arnold Potler, a former teacher who volunteers three hours a day at his local high school, shared Beytin's concern about connecting with the school board.

"The present board has meetings, questions are asked (and) the answers aren't coming," he said. "There may be answers, but we don't know what they are. We need an open door to leadership as we've had in the past."

Laurie Taylor is a parent of three children in Baltimore County Public Schools and is a teacher with the school system, as well. She moved to the county from New York seven years ago.

"There, board members are elected, and people voted on the school budget too," Taylor said.

In Baltimore County, she said, "Teachers area being held accountable every minute of every day," but she said she doesn't see that same accountability "at the top."

County Council member Vicki Almond, who represents the 2nd District including Reisterstown and Pikesville, is not on the task force, but attended the meeting.

"Accountability, transparency — that's what the people want because they don't trust government," she told the task force.

Formed by the Baltimore County delegation to the General Assembly during the last Annapolis session, the task force is a mix of current and former elected officials at the county and state level.

The task force is chaired by state Sen. Kathy Klausmeier, District 8; and Del. Stephen Lafferty, District 42.

Other members are state Sens. J. B. Jennings, District 7; Delores Kelley, District 10; Bobby Zirkin, District 11; and state Dels. Emmet Burns Jr., District 10, Wade Kach, District 5B, and Dana Stein, District 11.

Other members are former County Executive Jim Smith; Dunbar Brooks, former president the state Board of Education; former state Del. James W. Campbell; and Baltimore County Council chairman John Olszewski Sr., District 7

Zirkin said he supports a hybrid board of elected and appointed members.

"The constituents who we're here to serve don't have their say," Zirkin said.

"We trust the people to elect us," he said. "I don't know why we don't trust them to elect a school board."


Board Makeup


The task force studying potential change in the way the Baltimore County Board of Education is selected is considering six options:

- Appointment by the governor (this is how members are currently selected);

- Election of board members by voters;

- Appointment by the county executive;

- Some members elected and others appointed (hybrid system);

- Election by county nominating commission; or

- Appointment, with some additional approval.

The task force's recommendation is due Oct. 1 and will be delivered to Gov. Martin O'Malley, the state Superintendent of Schools, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, the county's delegates and state senators, the County Council, BCPS Superintendent Joe Hairston and the county Board of Education.

The result could become legislation for the 2012 General Assembly session.

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