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Selecting members of school board Ideas on the process abound, as do the longtime complaints


For years, there has been no shortage of complaints about how Anne Arundel County school board members are selected.

Now there is no shortage of solutions.

A committee of the county's legislative delegation will vote Tuesday on five selection alternatives. So far, the seven committee members haven't agreed on any of the five.

State lawmakers have held three hearings to reach a consensus on what, if any, legislation to introduce in the next General Assembly session to change the selection process. Four bills were introduced last session. All failed. This year, common ground is elusive.

"It is a tough philosophical decision, whether you want the school board independent or controlled by local county councils and executives," said Del. Michael E. Busch, an Annapolis Democrat and committee member.

The latest idea, put forth Monday in a proposed council resolution by Councilmen Bert Rice, an Odenton Republican, and James "Ed" DeGrange, a Glen Burnie Democrat, would put control of the board in the council's hands. The governor's role would evaporate, and with it the sway of legislators and the county executive.

Under the plan, a committee picked by the council would replace the volunteer committee. The nominating convention process of debates and votes by delegates from interested community groups would remain.

Instead of the county executive recommending an appointment to the governor, the executive would give the council one of the top two vote-getters from the convention for ratification. If the council and the executive can't agree, another convention would be held, Mr. Rice said.

Mr. DeGrange said the council should have control over who serves on the eight-member school board because the board's budget is the only one the council can directly change. Education accounts for 57 percent of the county's budget. The councilmen's argument is similar to County Executive John G. Gary's reason for giving his office sole appointment authority.

Del. Joan Cadden doesn't agree with either approach. She favors an elected school board.

"They want to appoint the members of the nominating committee and then they want to approve it? If the County Council wants to control it that badly, they don't need a school board," said Ms. Cadden, a legislative committee member.

The proposed council resolution will come up for a hearing on Dec. 4. That is nearly a week after the delegation committee makes its decision -- if it reaches a decision.

"There is no guarantee that we will reach a consensus," said Del. John R. Leopold, a Pasadena Republican and co-chairman of the committee. He favors the executive making the appointments from the top two popular candidates.

The nominating convention has been criticized in recent years. County executives have not gone along with the popular choice. Seven times in the past 12 years the governor passed over the top nominee or ignored the convention's list of names. Public participation has dwindled to a fraction of what it was, making it easier to stack a vote for any candidate.

The five options before the committee are:

* Make no change to the current process.

* Codify the nominating convention. Limit whoever makes the appointment -- the county executive or governor -- to the top candidates.

* Draft legislation that would call for an elected school board or a referendum on an elected board.

* Decentralize the school system and create four separate school boards.

* Provide for direct appointment by either the county executive or County Council.

The committee will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Room 213 of the Lowe House Office Building.

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