Raising concerns about what they see as racial inequity on the local school board, members of the Baltimore County NAACP maintain that two of three competing Senate bills making their way through the General Assembly could make matters worse.
One bill would create a hybrid board, consisting of elected and appointed members. A second bill would reinstate nominating conventions, last used in the 1990s, to make recommendations for the governor's appointments. A third bill would maintain a governor-appointed board but require state Senate confirmation and would demand that the panel be demographically representative of the county's student population.
Members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, some of whom testified during a Baltimore County Senate delegation hearing this week, maintain that a hybrid system would politicize the school board, and that nominating conventions proved ineffective years ago in ensuring minority representation, because governors began ignoring local recommendations. The third option's confirmation process would provide a checks and balances, group members said.
"Our fear at this point is that if we resort to the school board nominating convention or to an elected process, the chances of having equitable representation on the board range between slim and nil," Barbara Dezmon, who serves on the executive committee of the NAACP's Baltimore County chapter, said in an interview yesterday.
Dezmon, who is the school system's assistant to the superintendent for equity and assurance, said the district's records show that minorities make up 49.1 percent of the county's 106,182 students. Furthermore, she said, black students represent 81 percent of the minorities in the system.
Currently, the governor appoints the board's 11 adult members - who must be county residents - to serve five-year terms. Four members serve at large, while seven serve from councilmanic districts. The governor also appoints a student member, who is nominated by students and school officials, to a one-year term.
Two of the current board's members are black.
In a written statement, the NAACP members said they support Senate Bill 79 - sponsored by Democrat Sens. Delores G. Kelley, James Brochin and Norman R. Stone Jr. - because it "is viewed as at least providing the potential for equitable representation."
Ella White Campbell, who serves on the group's executive committee, said she supports the bill because it explicitly calls for demographic equity.
"We're opposed to an elected board, because, when you think in terms of Baltimore County, you have to consider that we had to create a new councilmanic district to get one black councilman," Campbell said yesterday.
She said Senate confirmation would formalize an already common practice whereby most governors have heeded the local delegation's recommendations.
But sponsors of the hybrid and nominating convention bills say their proposals not only seek to increase the public's ability to decide who serves on the school board, but also would ensure greater accountability to the public.
"A hybrid board helps us achieve all our goals, from diversity to accountability," said Democratic Sen. Bobby A. Zirkin, whose Senate Bill 82 would create a board consisting of eight governor-appointed members and seven who would be elected by councilmanic districts. "The citizens of Baltimore County are extremely well-equipped to make their own decisions about who they believe would best represent them on the school board."
Maggie Kennedy, a former Baltimore County PTA leader who testified during this week's hearing, said she favors maintaining a fully appointed board because of research that indicates a hybrid board is helpful only during a transition from one form to another.
"Appointed boards can make decisions that are sometimes not popular politically but are in the interest of the children," Kennedy said.
Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier, also a Democrat, said restoring nominating conventions allow local leaders to influence governor appointments. The nominating convention would be made up of representatives from the county's civic organizations, she said.
Senate Bill 99, sponsored by Klausmeier and Republican Sen. Andrew P. Harris, would require the governor to choose from a list of nominees provided by the convention.
"The makeup of the school board should reflect the public," Klausmeier said. "The nominating convention would allow folks to have more of a say."
The county's Senate delegation is expected to decide as soon as next week which, if any, of the proposed bills to recommend to the full General Assembly.