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Harford legislators considering bill that would stagger terms of elected, appointed school board members

Harford County’s delegation to Annapolis is considering legislation that would adjust the terms of future appointed members of the public school board so that, starting in 2025, their terms would be staggered with those of elected members.

Right now, both appointed and elected officials are sworn in and seated every four years following a gubernatorial election.

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The makeup of the Harford County Public Schools Board of Education includes six elected members and three members appointed by the governor, as well as a student representative.

House Bill 283 would eliminate the possibility that all nine adult members of the school board are replaced at the same time, Del. Teresa Reilly, R-District 35B, explained on a virtual meeting of the Harford delegation Thursday.

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When the current Board of Education was seated in July 2019, just two of its nine members — Jansen Robinson and Rachel Gaither, both elected — had any previous experience on the board.

Under the proposal, when the current appointed members’ terms end in 2023, the governor would have 90 days to appoint three members, whose terms would only been two years. Once their appointments expire in 2025, the governor would then make three four-year appointments.

“What that does, from that point on in the future, the electeds are done during the general election of the gubernatorial ... and the appointeds are basically being appointed during the presidential general election [year], so we’re staggering,” said Reilly, the county delegation’s chair.

“Instead of extending any of the current ones or cutting any of the future ones short, we just figured we’ll give them a two-year appointment, then the governor [appoints] again.”

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The bill would not affect elected school board members.

The Board of Education has not yet taken a position on the legislation, said Patrice Ricciardi, who attended the virtual delegation meeting on behalf of the school board.

Ricciardi, who was appointed to the school board in 2019, said she has spoken with other members individually about the bill, but said the board will vote on a formal stance at Monday’s meeting.

The delegation had reached out to the school system early in the process, as well as the county executive’s office, asking if there were any questions or concerns about the proposed legislation, Reilly said. To date, there have been none.

Del. Mary Ann Lisanti, D-District 34A, made a motion to table the delegation’s vote on the bill until after the Board of Education decides where it stands. The motion passed unanimously Thursday.

Lisanti, who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, said she would present the school board’s position when the legislation is heard in that committee next Wednesday.

At least one legislator, Del. Rick Impallaria, R-District 7, said he would prefer if the school board was fully elected by the people, without appointees “by a governor that may be from another end of the state, who knows nothing about the people of Harford County or what their needs are.”

Del. Kathy Szeliga said she wasn’t opposed to an entirely elected board, but that different legislation would need to be introduced to address the matter, rather than drastically amending the proposal before them.

“If we do that, we need to have a hearing for the public to weigh in,” said Szeliga, R-District 7. “If we want to entertain a fully elected school board ... maybe that’s a bill for next year.”

Del. Susan McComas, R-District 34B, also noted that redrawing of the county council districts, as a result of the 2020 Census, could potentially affect current elected school board members when their terms expire in 2022. Elected school board members must run in the council district where they live.

Although elected school board members were chosen during the November general elections, they had previously not been seated until the following July, along with the appointed board members. Recent legislation changed that so that elected members would instead be seated in December immediately following their election. Appointed members’ terms would still begin July 1.

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