Eight months after taking office, Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary says he is abandoning his campaign pledge to take control of the county's 117 public schools.
Winning control over the semi-autonomous county Board of Education and changing state law to make the executive directly accountable for public education was a central theme of Mr. Gary's campaign last year. Although the $417 million school budget accounts for nearly half of the county's overall spending, the executive has little control over how the board spends the money.
Mr. Gary has suffered two setbacks this year in his quest for greater control.
His proposal to give the executive power to appoint board members directly failed to win the support of the county's 13 state delegates and five senators when the General Assembly met.
"As long as the state senators think they'll be in the driver's seat for making those appointments," Mr. Gary said Thursday, the executive will never be able to change the law. "Why would they take a political appointment away from themselves?"
Then, last week, Gov. Parris N. Glendening ignored the executive's recommendations for two openings on the eight-member school board. For the seat representing South County, the governor appointed the first choice of a citizen-based nominating convention, Michael J. McNelly.
For the seat from northeastern Anne Arundel, Mr. Glendening bypassed the convention and Mr. Gary and reappointed former board President Thomas Twombly at the urging of state Sens. Philip C. Jimeno, a Brooklyn Park Democrat, and C. Edward Middlebrooks, a Glen Burnie Republican. Although Mr. Twombly was nominated by the convention, he was not its top choice.
"The state senators seem to believe these will be their political appointments in the future, and that's sad," the executive said.
As a result, Mr. Gary said, he will not renew his push to change state law when the General Assembly reconvenes in January. The issue is now in the hands of a state legislative panel that was organized to review the appointment process.
"Let them answer to the public for the shortcomings of the way the system works now," Mr. Gary said.
Mr. Jimeno, who co-chairs the panel, said he expects to hear testimony from parents and other groups in the fall. He said that he does not believe the executive should make the appointments and that he opposes changing the law:
"I want the board to be independent. I want them to make a decision based on what's best for the education system, not on the priorities of John Gary."
In making the recent appointments, the governor chose from among the convention's nominees, even if he did not appoint its top choice, Mr. Jimeno noted. That, the senator said, is a sign that the nominating convention still works.
Although he recommended Mr. Twombly for the job, Mr. Middlebrooks said he supports the executive's drive for control over the schools.
FTC "I've always thought it should be a local [appointment]. I think [the executive has] a better pulse on what the county needs" than the governor does, Mr. Middlebrooks said.
Mr. Gary said he does not have "a whole lot of confidence that anything is going to come out of" the legislative review committee with Mr. Jimeno as its co-chairman.
"Obviously, [Mr. Jimeno and other lawmakers] disagree with the county executive making that appointment," Mr. Gary said.
"One of these days, one of those guys may be sitting in this seat, and they will understand that the county executive must deal with this issue."