Gary specifies qualities he seeks in school board members


Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary knows what he wants to see in a school board member, and he has asked those who screen candidates to abide by his criteria this spring.

A letter from Mr. Gary was included in an information packet sent this week to community organizations by the Anne Arundel County School Board Nominating Convention Committee, which is seeking school board candidates and representatives to the convention.

This year, two school board seats will be open. Dorothy Chaney has had two terms and will step down, and Thomas Twombly's first five-year term ends.

"I wanted to write to you personally to encourage you to participate in the nominating process," wrote Mr. Gary, who has already said he will seek to change the law so that he can make the appointments. "I sincerely want your recommendation. However, I want you to understand that this is a process, it is not an election."

Mr. Gary then lists seven qualities he believes a good school board member should have, including "a countywide perspective of the school system and its needs" and being "free from conflicts of interest with regard to 'special interest groups.' "

The nominating convention was formed 25 years ago to give citizens a chance to screen potential board candidates and advise the governor, who makes the five-year appointments and usually bases his decision on the recommendation of the county executive.

"No, I don't feel like he's dictating to us," said Charles J. Mosca, vice chairman of the Nominating Convention Committee. "I prefer to take this on a positive note. He's interested in having the best person for the job and interested in being assured the people will have certain minimum qualifications so there's no reason not to be in support of the convention's choice. I'm hoping this will revitalize the process."

William Donald Schaefer ignored the convention's top choice seven times during his terms as governor, prompting some people to question whether the convention and nominating committee had outlived their usefulness.

Joan Urbas, a former member of the committee, resigned in frustration more than a year ago. Mrs. Urbas has been active in the county's League of Women Voters, which is pushing legislation that calls for an elected school board.

She said she was surprised by Mr. Gary's letter of instructions to potential convention delegates.

"I just think it's putting more entrenched power in one place," Mrs. Urbas said.

She said she questioned whether a county executive would have time to supervise a school board and oversee preparation of a budget that uses 47 percent of the county's funds.

"The major reason [the league members] believe in an elected board is to give the people the power of selecting the people they want to lead the schools and spend all that money," Mrs. Urbas said. "There's no more subtle or sophisticated way of putting it: We want people to have that choice."

Del. Marsha G. Perry, a Crofton Democrat, and Del. Joan Cadden, a North County Democrat, are working on a measure to establish an elected school board.

Del. Robert C. Baldwin, a West County Republican, is writing proposed legislation that would authorize the county executive to appoint the school board.

His bill would have candidates apply to the County Council, which would forward names to a citizens' nominating committee that in turn would forward nominees to the executive.

Delegates from community organizations can question potential school board candidates at a series of hearings. The hearings, which all begin at 7 p.m., will be held April 4 at North County High School; April 12 at Southern Senior High School; and April 20 at Annapolis Senior High School.

The convention delegates will vote on their top choices May 3 at Old Mill Senior High School.

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