Gov. Larry Hogan's appointment of a former Baltimore County executive to the county school board is drawing criticism from some local leaders, who say it leaves the board with only two minority members to help shape policy in a system where more than half the students are minorities.
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, the League of Women Voters, the county branch of the NAACP and others have expressed dismay that Hogan is replacing a black board member with a white man.
Hogan appointed Roger Hayden, a Republican former county executive who also previously served on the school board, on Tuesday. He takes the place of Romaine Williams, who resigned from the board after moving out of the county. Hayden could not be reached for comment.
"Roger Hayden has been a dedicated public servant throughout his career and is immensely qualified to serve as a member of the school board; however, I am deeply troubled by Governor Hogan's complete disregard for diversity in a school system that is 60 percent non-white," Kamenetz said in a statement. He is regarded as a likely Democratic candidate for governor next year when the Republican Hogan is expected to seek re-election.
The school system's enrollment is 41 percent white, 39 percent African-American and 14 percent Hispanic and Asian. A smaller number of students are other races. The numbers reflect the county's changing demographics and the need for a school board that represents a changing student body, the governor's critics said.
"I think the lack of diversity is troubling to me. I think diversity is important to producing good outcomes for minorities," said Baltimore County Councilman Julian Jones, a Democrat. "Some of the people on the board just don't know what goes on in these communities of color. They just don't understand what these kids are going through."
The 12-member school board has one black and one Hispanic appointee, and the other members are white. All seven of Hogan's previous appointments to the school board have been white.
School board appointments often don't elicit public reaction, but this is the second time in the past two years that county leaders and education advocates are protesting a Hogan appointment and asking the governor to reconsider his choice.
"Age, gender and race diversity in educational leadership matters. It matters the utmost in Baltimore, because this county's racial makeup has changed so drastically over the last 13 years," said board member Marisol Johnson, who is Hispanic and was appointed by former Gov. Martin O'Malley.
Asked about the criticism, Hogan's office issued a written statement. "The Hogan administration is fully committed to choosing the most competent and well-qualified representatives to serve on hundreds of boards and commissions across the state," the statement said. "The administration will continue to appoint men and women who are reflective of the diverse nature of our state and will provide the highest level of service to the citizens of Maryland."
Tony Fugett, president of the Baltimore County branch of the NAACP, said previous governors allowed local groups including the teachers union, the PTA, NAACP and others to interview candidates for school board appointments and to offer feedback. The Hogan administration has not sought the NAACP's input, Fugett said.
"The major concern is that we have lost that window to vet the candidates to learn what the candidates stand for," he said.
Del. Adrienne Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, said she and other members of the county delegation are writing a letter to Hogan to express their disapproval of the lack of diversity on the school board.
"When you have a student population that is 60 percent minority, we would expect the school board would express views that take into consideration that population," she said.
Jones said a well qualified African-American candidate was recommended to Hogan but was passed over for Hayden. Jones said she respects Hayden but believes more diversity is needed.
In recent years, the school board has had three African-American members, with most of the other seats held by white men. Hogan has appointed several white women to the board.
PTA President Emory Young said he believes diversity on the board is important to bring "differences of experiences and ideas to the table" and "to represent all parties and all voices."
"We wish there had been more community input," he said.
Yara Cheikh, a parent who is also education chair of the League of Women Voters, said more change is needed.
"The League is concerned that as a majority minority school system, our board does not reflect this incredible diversity. This appointment further exacerbates the erosion of minority representation," she said. "Our school system boasts students and staff from 108 countries, and 85 languages are spoken in our system's homes. This is incredible and should be celebrated."
In 2015, Kamenetz, the county teachers union and an immigrant rights group asked Hogan to reconsider appointing Ann Miller to the school board, expressing concern about conservative views she espouses as a blogger.
Miller had written extensively about her opposition to same-sex marriage, transgender rights, the Common Core educational standards and in-state college tuition for immigrant students in the country illegally. She also had called on parents to opt out of state testing for their children.
Hogan rejected the criticism and appointed Miller.
Hayden's tenure could be brief as the county transitions to a partly elected school board. In November 2018, county residents for the first time will elect seven members of the board. Each will represent a geographical district.
Four other members will be appointed through a nomination process that includes input from a nominating committee of community members. The twelfth seat will continue to be held by a student chosen by a separate process.