Task force on school board selection meets final time

The president of the Baltimore County school board said Monday that if board members are elected, rather than appointed, school system diversity might suffer, and the process could get lost amid other elected offices on the ballot.

Board president Lawrence Schmitt spoke Monday at a public meeting of the state task force reviewing the school board selection process.

In the last of its three public meetings, the 12-member Task Force on the Membership and Operation of the Baltimore County Board of Education met at the Towson Library.

Schmitt, who took over the board presidency two weeks ago, has been a board member for two years.

He said the board, in the past, "has always supported to keep an appointed school board."

"It is an extremely diverse school system," Schmitt said, worrying aloud that an elected school board might fail to reflect the ethnic diversity of the county population.

Schmitt also said that with so much already on Maryland ballots — clerk of the court, Orphan's Court judges and so on — a school board election would end up "pretty far down the ballot."

Now, board members are appointed by the governor. The task force is considering whether members should instead be elected by voters, whether the board should be a mix of elected and appointed members, or whether it should be selected by some other process.

Formed by Baltimore County's General Assembly delegation, 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; and Bobby Zirkin, District 11; and state Dels. Emmet Burns Jr., District 10, Wade Kach, District 5B, and Dana Stein, District 11.

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

The task force is considering six options for how Baltimore County Board of Education members could be selected:

• Appointment by the governor.

• Election by voters.

• Appointment by the county executive.

• Some members elected and others appointed (hybrid system).

• Election by county nominating commission.

• Appointment, with some additional approval.

The task force's first meeting was July 6 at the Reisterstown Library, followed by a second meeting July 7 inEssex.

On Monday, Schmitt told the task force he was "well aware of the criticism" that parents, teachers and other members of the public have directed at the board. He said he hoped the board would address during his presidency transparency, accessibility and accountability.

The board is scheduled to hold a retreat Aug. 13, and Schmitt said the matter is on the agenda.

Members of the public and representatives of organizations offered opinions of the board selection; many backed election of at least some members.

"The League of Women Voters of Baltimore County is in favor of a hybrid board," said Judy Miller, chairwoman of the league's education policy committee. She added that whoever appointed the non-elected members should be responsible for maintaining diversity on the board if voters do not.

Dennis King, parent of a rising seventh-grader at Dumbarton Middle School, said, "There has to be a hybrid board," then added, "put a parent, put a teacher on the board."

County Council member David Marks, who represents the 5th District including Towson, Parkville and White Marsh, said, "I do not believe the governor should have any role in our board of education."

He said non-partisan elections would be best, with three members and a president appointed locally and seven members elected.

Some of the 50 or more people who attended hooted and cheered at the suggestion.

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, county school superintendent Joe Hairston and the county school board.

The result could become legislation for the 2012 General Assembly session, which begins in January.

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