County school board members should be elected, according to a small group of Crofton parents who have begun collecting signatures and plan to lobby politicians for the change when the General Assembly session starts next month.
In three weeks, the group has collected about 200 signatures, according to Richard S. Zipper, who is organizing the Anne Arundel Citizens for an Elected School Board. He said the group hopes to deliver 1,000 names to the Anne Arundel County state delegation.
Zipper, who has two children in Crofton Middle School, said he started the group because the eight-member school board has been unresponsive to the public and because the governor ignores the nominating convention process of appointing board members.
"I am sure that an elected board is not going to answer every
public whim," Zipper said. "But this was one of [former County Executive John G.] Gary's complaints that the board has no one to answer to."
A half-dozen people joined with Zipper after he placed an advertisement in a local newspaper, and they are collecting signatures outside post offices and malls.
Anne Arundel is one of 12 counties in Maryland in which a nominating convention made up of representatives from nonprofit groups -- such as homeowners associations and PTAs -- nominates two candidates for each vacancy. The selected names go to the governor, who chooses the board members. The governor does not necessarily appoint the nominee with the most votes from the convention.
"It's been totally ignored," Zipper said of the nominating convention choices. "And participation in the convention has dropped. So the chances of a group that is participating with a narrow special interest, such as religious or wanting a new high school built in the Crofton area, getting their candidate elected is greater."
Vaughn Brown, a member of the school board from Hanover, said, however, that he suspects "that it will make little to no difference how a school board functions," whether it is elected or not.
He defended the nominating convention process, because it gives the public a chance to know the candidates during a "structured public debate." While Maryland law allows counties to have an elected school board, no boards have taxing authority. County government officials control that function.
"I would be a strong supporter of a school board that has the taxing and spending authority," Brown said. "Without it, all you are doing is setting up an Election Day foil for the county executive."
Brown said he and other board members are accountable to the state Board of Education, which expects them to carry out state education goals; and to the county government, which expects them to manage the money that is given to them.
"It almost cheapens elected office," he said. "Because if we are going to elect the board and they don't have the authority to tax or spend, why are we doing it?"
Pub Date: 12/20/98