Convention or change


Members of Anne Arundel County's legislative delegation are again grappling with whether and how to change the way county school board members are chosen.

As they do so, the method that has been in place for decades -- the nominating convention -- is gearing up to select a new candidate for the school board.

Currently, school board members are appointed by the governor. Names are submitted by a nominating convention of about 150 people, but the governor is not required to choose from the list.

There have been several attempts over the years to change that, and this year is no exception.

"The delegation has wrestled with this issue for two decades," said Del. John R. Leopold, a Pasadena Republican. "A consensus has been elusive."

And some lawmakers aren't hopeful that this year will be any different.

"I don't think there's anybody really happy with the current system," said Del. Tony McConkey, a Severna Park Republican. "Hopefully next year" -- after the November election -- "there will be a chance for an elected school board."

During the current General Assembly session, three bills have been introduced in the House and one in the state Senate that deal with the issue.

The first House bill -- which is nearly identical to one passed by the House last year -- is supported by 10 of the county's 15 delegates, said Leopold, a sponsor of the bill. The bill proposes to limit the governor's choices to candidates submitted by a 15-member nominating commission. Board members would appear on the ballot in the next general election to retain their positions.

Last March, the House approved a similar measure by a vote of 131 to 1, but Anne Arundel senators didn't finish amending their version until the last day of the session, and the full Senate never voted on the proposal.

Even though the bill received more support from the county's delegates last year -- 14 of 15 backed it -- Leopold is hopeful about its chances this year.

"All I'd ask is that there be an opportunity for ... dialogue with the senators," said Leopold, who is running for county executive.

Another Republican, Sen. Janet Greenip of Severna Park, has introduced her own bill -- with a corresponding House bill.

It calls for two board members to be appointed by the county executive and approved by the County Council, with the other five members elected by district in nonpartisan races.

"It's a compromise bill," said McConkey, a co-sponsor of the House version. Elected members would add more public accountability, but the two appointed members would enable the county to choose people with unique qualifications or to ensure diversity, McConkey said.

"This way would allow the county executive some flexibility, to allow the county more input since they are the financial arm," he said.

He also signed on to a bill with Del. Joan Cadden, a Democrat, that would allow voters, through a ballot measure, to choose between an appointed or elected school board.

All the bills are in committee.

For now, the system will continue as it has since the late 1970s, with a nominating convention convening to review potential replacements for board member Paul G. Rudolph, who is nearing the end of two consecutive five-year terms.

Applications for the coming vacancy are due Wednesday, and, though none had been received last week, Mark Fontaine, chairman of the nominating convention, said he knows of two people who plan to apply.

The convention also is in the process of accepting delegates. In recent years, Fontaine said, about 150 people have participated. The convention will hold three meetings with the school board applicants in April and will convene in May to nominate a candidate.

The convention will send its No. 1 and 2 picks to the governor. In 2002, then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening caused a stir when he passed over the convention's recommended candidate and selected South County resident Konrad M. Wayson, an ally of County Executive Janet S. Owens.

The convention is staying out of the debate, Fontaine said, though he added that he suspects this year will be like the last -- with no agreement and no legislation passed on the issue.

"It's up to the citizens and their representatives to decide," he said. "If they keep the existing system going, we'll continue to work within it."

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