Due to a quirk in state law, Gov. Larry Hogan is making a slew of new appointments to state and local school boards this year, giving him the opportunity to steer the state's education policy toward a more conservative view.
Some of the appointees already named reflect Hogan's concerns about the Common Core standards and his desire to expand charter schools. And more are coming: of the 22 school board appointments Hogan can make in Central Maryland this year, only 15 have been filled so far.
"It is a lot of educational policy in the governor's hands," said Henry Smith, an assistant professor of education policy at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education. "It is an opportunity for him to reach beyond politics and appoint people who have some different approaches to education than we have seen to date."
The appointments come at a crucial time. Contracts for the state and Baltimore County superintendents are up for renewal, and there is growing concern over a new teacher evaluation system and the amount of testing required of students. The state school board, which in Maryland has broad power to set education policy, will determine whether schools continue on their course.
Unlike other states, Maryland has adopted most of the recent policy changes, including the Common Core, teacher evaluations and new assessments, without a significant backlash. But those on the far right and on the far left have criticized such changes, for different reasons.
The quirk that gave Hogan so many school board appointments resulted from the rescheduling of Maryland primaries.
When primaries were moved from September to June, the appointment process that had been in place for years was disrupted. Because the state constitution says a lame-duck governor cannot make appointments after the primary, and because most school board terms end June 30, Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, was prevented from making appointments for positions that turned over last summer. Some school board members whose terms had expired stayed for an additional year; in other cases, positions were left vacant.
As a result, Hogan, a Republican, will fill two years' worth of vacancies in his first six months in office: those that turn over this July and those from last July. In most cases, the appointees will serve four- or five-year terms, although in Baltimore County some terms will be cut short in 2018 when the county transitions to a partly elected board.
Hogan said after a recent news conference that he did not use the state board appointments to advance his agenda on creating more charter schools or slowing the Common Core. For city and county board appointments — which have included Democrats and Republicans — he said he is relying primarily on recommendations from the local level.
In a statement, the governor's office added that Hogan "is committed to selecting individuals who will represent the best interest of their respective counties and will apply these very high standards to his remaining appointees." Hogan, who has been keeping a limited schedule while undergoing cancer treatment, declined to be interviewed to discuss the issue further.
Increasingly, board members in large counties are taking on what is essentially a volunteer, part-time job that requires them to oversee complex budgets of more than $1 billion, or as much as half a county's entire spending. Board members must vote on contracts ranging from purchasing textbooks to building schools; they also hire and can fire the superintendent.
Hogan's appointees could have immediate impact. State schools Superintendent Lillian Lowery and Baltimore County Superintendent Dallas Dance have contracts that expire in a year, and decisions on whether they will be offered new four-year deals will be made in the next six months.
Hogan's appointees to the 12-member state school board include well-known education experts familiar with policies they will be asked to weigh in on, including conservatives Chester E. Finn Jr. and Andy Smarick, who have researched and written extensively about education.
Finn is a former president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington conservative think tank, where he worked for 17 years. Smarick is a partner at Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit education research and consulting firm. Smarick was formerly the New Jersey deputy commissioner of education and a deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Education during Republican President George W. Bush's administration.
Finn and Smarick, who support the Common Core and are strong advocates for charter schools, declined to discuss their appointments.
Hogan has also appointed Michele Jenkins Guyton, who lives in northern Baltimore County and has children with disabilities, to the state board. She could not be reached for comment.
"I am very encouraged by how knowledgeable and accomplished some of them are," said Jason Botel, executive director of MarylandCan, an education advocacy group. "Chester Finn and Andy Smarick are two leading national experts on education policy and practice. While I may not agree with them on every issue, having their experience and expertise on our state school board is an enormous value-add for our state's children."
The state and local appointments so far have not shown much racial diversity, even though white children are a minority in public schools in the state and in Baltimore County. For example, Finn and Smarick, who are white, replaced two African-American women appointed by O'Malley. In Baltimore County, one of the six appointees is African-American: Romaine Williams, who is being reappointed to the board.
"Going forward I would encourage the governor and his staff to play close attention to the diversity in Baltimore County," said Don Mohler, chief of staff for County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, a Democrat. Mohler added, "It is clear in the appointments that the county executive did not have involvement in the selection process."
In Baltimore County, Hogan's appointments to the 12-member board range from Democrats who have run for government office to conservative voices, including Republican Ann Miller, who will take her seat later in the year.
Current board member George Moniodis said the board needs consistency amid such large turnover. The governor's office mistakenly thought that his term expired July 1 and named Miller to replace him. However, Moniodis' term does not expire until December and he will serve until then.
The members' lack of experience could make their jobs more difficult, Moniodis said. "We could help them in the transition to become active participants of the board. If I had gone out, it would have been six [new members including a student member]. In business it doesn't happen like that," he said.
Miller, who is opposed to both the Common Core and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests, has been critical of the school system in her columns for an online publication, Examiner.com.
Last school year, she tried to have her daughter, a student at Hereford High School, opt out of state testing, which the state has advised school systems not to allow.
"Either [Baltimore County Public Schools] must acknowledge a parent's right to refuse the tests and provide written policy on those procedures, or they must stand in defiance of federal statute and deny parental rights to govern their children's education," Miller wrote in a column. "We will not continue to be misled, uninformed, intimidated, and subject to arbitrary and fluid decisions made on the fly and written on a napkin."
In an interview, she said she supports more local control of schools, wants a greater role for parents and wants the school system to be more transparent.
"We have lost a lot of teachers. They are the front line and we need to listen to them and respond," said Miller, who also has a child who is home-schooled and another who attends a private Christian school.
Hogan's new appointments include more people who have children in the systems they are representing. In Baltimore County, for instance, only one school board member in the past several years has had children in the public schools. Two of the five new appointments are parents of current students.
Besides Miller, Hogan appointed Republican Kathleen Causey, also the parent of a Hereford High student and a leader of Hereford Works, a group that fought Dance's change in high school schedules a year ago. Members petitioned legislative leaders and turned up by the hundreds at school board meetings, but eventually lost the attempt to keep their schedule.
In Baltimore County, Hogan also appointed June Eaton, a retired Catholic school social studies and language arts teacher from Dundalk; Nick Stewart, an Arbutus lawyer who ran unsuccessfully for state delegate as a Democrat; and Stephen Verch, who ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for a seat on the County Council.
Republican Del. Robert Long said in a statement that he recommended Eaton, whose children attended Catholic schools, because she has the "breadth of experience needed to confront the challenges of education in a constantly involving economy. She will bring a perspective that will ensure we prepare our young people for a prosperous career and successful post-secondary education."
Eaton is not a registered voter, so she has no party affiliation. Asked if she had any public school issues that needed to be addressed, she said, "I really haven't given it much thought. This is all new to me."
The nature of Baltimore County's school board will change in a few years. After some parent advocates complained that the board had ignored their concerns, they lobbied for a hybrid board, with some elected and some appointed members. The legislature passed the measure, which takes effect in 2018.
Harford County's board is already a hybrid of elected and appointed members. Hogan has appointed Laura S. Runyeon, a paralegal for Miles and Stockbridge who has been active with the PTA, and Alfred L. Williamson, a retired Social Security Administration senior manager. Hogan reappointed Joseph Arthur Hau, who is vice president and chief financial officer of Chesapeake Environmental Management Inc. and has served on the board since 2011.
Ryan Burbey, president of the Harford County Education Association, said he doesn't know the new members well but is looking forward to working with them.
In Anne Arundel County, Hogan will name five of the board's nine members this year, but will have less power in the choices because he must choose from a list created by a nominating commission.
Hogan has appointed three people to open seats and has two more to announce. The appointments are Tom Frank of Crofton, retired founder and head of a biomedical engineering company; Julie Hummer of Laurel, a former teacher and active PTA member who has three children in the school system; and Allison Pickard of Millersville, a parent and PTA president whose career has included working on elderly housing issues.
The three new appointees to the Baltimore City school board, who are chosen jointly by the governor and mayor, have not yet been announced. Howard and Carroll counties have elected school boards.
Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser contributed to this article.
An earlier version of this article said that Chester E. Finn Jr. and Andy Smarick had replaced an African-American man and an African-American woman on the state board. However, they replaced two African-American women. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.