Some members of the Baltimore County school board’s Nominating Commission say the organization has “deviated” from its intended role of presenting eligible candidates to help lead the school system.
At a news conference Thursday morning, Eugene Clark and Marietta English said that the commission’s three officers did not follow policy in deciding which applicants get the opportunity to be interviewed and submitted to Maryland Gov. Wes Moore for potential appointment to the Baltimore County Public Schools Board of Education.
Cindy Sexton, chair of the nominating commission, said policy was followed.
Clark and English said past practice has been to interview all applicants, but, on May 22, the commission’s three officers, who are appointed or elected into the executive roles, motioned to dismiss five of eight applications without interviewing them. The motion passed in a 9-5 vote.
Commission members had only 40 minutes to review the eight applications before the vote, English said.
In a process adopted in May 2021, officers can present recommendations to the commission to be voted upon, Sexton said. She said members also were given two opportunities to suspend the rules at the May 22 meeting and add more applicant names to the pool, though no one did.
Sexton said she learned of the news conference and its related grievance Thursday morning and that no one came to her directly.
Speaking at Morning Star Baptist Church Chapel in Woodlawn, Clark said all 19 commission members should be involved in selecting candidates who are sent to the governor for approval, as per the law. State Sens. Charles E. Sydnor III and Benjamin Brooks and Del. Cheryl Pasteur, a former BCPS board member, spoke in agreement.
“We want the commission to operate how it’s supposed to,” Clark said.
Sexton attended the news conference and said the commission was trying to expedite the appointment process so the board seat could be filled by July. The officers’ motion to interview three applicants was meant to help speed the process up, as well as appease members who said they did not want to interview applicants who had been interviewed in the past, she told The Baltimore Sun.
“I’ve also made sure that I consulted our legal counsel around this to make sure that we were in a good place as a commission, but it was a democratic vote about whose names we were going to put forward,” Sexton said at the event.
One board of education seat is currently open. In April, Moore had four vacancies on the BCPS school board to fill, but, without explanation, appointed only three new members.
Sexton, who is also president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said this was the first time a governor has not filled all the appointed seats. It was the second opportunity a Maryland governor got to appoint members to the board. Some of its members are elected, rather than appointed.
Clark, English and fellow commission members the Rev. Terri K. Williams and Jeanette Young published an open letter Thursday with their concerns about the commission’s direction and the treatment of applicant Marisol Johnson. A BCPS board member from 2013 to 2017 and the mother of two BCPS students, Johnson applied for the current open seat. Although she previously served on the board, she was told in writing that she did not have the qualifications to be interviewed.
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“When we have a small number of applicants, there’s no need to eliminate a candidate,” English said. “They can do that themselves in the interview. Give them the chance to be heard and let the commissioners in their entirety select who should go forward to the governor.”
Johnson said Thursday that the commission’s leaders have not held an “open and transparent process.” She wants to see Latinx representation on the school board, which she said she could provide if she were given the chance.
“Let me remind you that the nominating committee is charged in their own statute with looking at diversity, inclusion and equity when selecting board members for the governor to appoint,” Johnson said. “A glaring need in the school board right now is someone to represent the Latino, Hispanic families.”
Pasteur pointed out that there hasn’t been a Latino school board member since Johnson, despite the district’s growing number of Latino students. She suggested that she, along with the senators, should review the processes laid out in the commission bylaws to eliminate any holes.
Sydnor said the board should correct any processes that were not followed before submitting applicants to the governor; otherwise, he said, he will work to ensure those nominees are rejected.
“Everyone should be at least considered,” Brooks said. “If the [commission] does follow the protocol on this, then that would remove any doubt or the lack of transparency.”