Ahead of Baltimore City’s first school board meeting of 2023, elected members wait to take oaths of office

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The Baltimore City school board’s long-awaited expansion to include two elected members faces delays this month as the recently elected must wait until late January to be sworn in.

City voters cast ballots in November for the first-ever race to fill two new seats on the board of education, effectively ending Maryland’s tradition of fully appointed school boards. The terms of Ashley Esposito and Kwamé Kenyatta-Bey technically begin this year, and they are scheduled to take their oaths of office Jan. 27, according to Jack French, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office.

Ashley Esposito and Kwamé Kenyatta-Bey will not take their seats until after the first two public board meetings of the year, which take place at Baltimore City Public Schools' headquarters on North Avenue, above.

That means Esposito and Kenyatta-Bey will not take their seats until after the first two public board meetings of the year, which are scheduled for Tuesday evening and Jan. 17.

French said swearing-in ceremonies are conducted independent of board meetings. Their timing depends on the mayor’s schedule, he said in an email Monday.


The delay hints at a cautious transition surrounding the 10-person board of appointed commissioners.

Esposito lamented losing the opportunity to help set legislative priorities with fellow board members ahead of the General Assembly’s upcoming session, which is scheduled to begin Wednesday.

“I kind of have a sense of ‘FOMO,’ like fear of missing out,” Esposito said. “All of the other people who ran at the same time as us for other offices, they’re getting sworn in.”

Kenyatta-Bey said he was not frustrated with the delay but would closely monitor meetings ahead of taking his seat. The longtime English for speakers of other languages U.S. history teacher acknowledged that he will need to leave his job at Patterson High School to hold the office but said he won’t do so until he’s sworn in.

“Until we’re in, I have to be able to continue [analyzing] what actions to take once I’m there,” he said. “There will be decisions made in that time, but I have to move forward.”

Meanwhile, the city’s sitting board members, all of whom were appointed by past and present mayors, say they’ve been making procedural changes and clarifications to the way the board conducts itself in anticipation of the historic transition. Board president Johnette Richardson hopes the changes will alleviate the potential for conflicts on the expanded board — like the clashes that have played out in other jurisdictions shifting to a hybrid model in recent years.

Baltimore County’s school board made the switch in 2018 and soon faced intense gridlock, leading to some embarrassing conflicts when the coronavirus pandemic caused deep uncertainty in public education. And Prince George’s County activists petitioned the General Assembly last year to do away with appointments, citing how the hybrid model has led to deep division on the board. Lawmakers passed the bill last year.

“We’re just trying to be as proactive as we can,” Richardson said. “You can’t think of everything. If something comes up as a conflict, we want to address it quickly.”


Richardson has heard of conflict on other hybrid school boards around the state but doesn’t attribute the problem to the mix of elected and appointed members. She said it would be “heartbreaking” if Baltimore’s school board moved in the same direction.

“Grounding the entire board in what’s in the best interest of students in Baltimore City, that’s the best I can do right now,” Richardson said.

In the event of conflict, Richardson plans to identify potential mediators on the board who can help resolve issues as they arise.

Kenyatta-Bey believes the city’s transition will differ from that in other jurisdictions thanks, in part, to a presence of newer and younger members on the board.

“I like the crew over there, and we’ll get along with them,” he said. The procedural changes undertaken by appointed members show there’s a progressive mindset, he said.

“If somebody is doing strategy even before we get there, good,” Kenyatta-Bey said.


Still, Esposito said she wonders what energy two elected seats will bring to the board.

“From my perspective, it really depends on how the school board and how the administration treats the elected members,” she said. “The ball’s in their court. We’re not the majority.”

She worries the board policy changes made by appointed members could be problematic if they hamper their ability to communicate with the public.

“I think people need to get in the habit of getting uncomfortable and opening themselves up,” Esposito said. “We’re definitely different coming onto the board.”

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Esposito had unsuccessfully sought an appointed position on the board and has worked with the coalition of activists who originally advocated for the expansion. The General Assembly approved the change in 2016, prior to her moving to Baltimore.


Baltimore City’s expanded school board brings the jurisdiction in line with the state’s other 23 school systems, all of which have transitioned to partially or totally elected boards over the past 70 years.

Maryland’s history of fully appointed school boards traces back to the early 20th century, when the General Assembly delegated such appointments to the governor for the 23 counties and to the mayor for Baltimore City.

Dr. Thomas G. Pullen Jr., then the state superintendent of schools, spoke out against the state’s first proposal of its kind to elect Montgomery County’s board of education in 1951, calling it a “deviation” from uniformity, The Sun reported at the time.

“If you make an exception in one place, God knows where you are going to stop,” he said.

Baltimore Sun librarian Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

For the record

A previous version of this article incorrectly characterized Ashley Esposito's relationship with a coalition of activists who advocated for the expansion of Baltimore City's school board. The Sun regrets the error.