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School board bill clears state House

The Baltimore Sun

A bill to require the governor to select Anne Arundel County school board members from a nomination list has cleared a significant hurdle with the House of Delegates' passage of a version that would pay board members an annual stipend of at least $6,000.

The Senate passed a similar version last week without mandating a stipend. The House bill passed Monday 136-2, with Republican Dels. Warren E. Miller of Howard County and Tony McConkey of Severna Park casting the minority votes.

Both contain the "essential elements of reform," said County Executive John R. Leopold: The governor would not be able to deviate from a nominating commission's selected finalists for board openings, and appointed members would be required to stand for a retention election.

"I know that the legislative process grinds slowly, but this year we're poised to finally secure the school board election reform that has been elusive for two decades," Leopold, a Republican, said Monday.

Four local jurisdictions sought some form of an elected school board this year, but only Anne Arundel's petition remains alive in Annapolis.

Anne Arundel board members are now nominated by a convention of volunteers, which forwards the names to the governor. He can select from that list or ignore it and appoint someone of his own choosing.

Leopold said the merits of changing the school board selection process outweigh the financial impact. Under the House bill, each member except the student member would each receive $6,000. The chair would earn $8,000 annually. The stipend would apply to those members selected after July 1, meaning the first stipends would be applied to the fiscal 2009 budget, Leopold said. Because members serve staggered terms, the full fiscal impact of $50,000 annually would not be incurred for several years, he said.

Currently, board members are allowed to claim $3,600 a year in expenses. If the House amendment survives through conference committee - where the two versions would be reconciled - members receiving the stipend would no longer be allowed to claim expenses.

The House version would also strip health and pension benefits from school board members.

McConkey said he has worked for four years on getting an elected school board and did not want to settle for allowing the governor to continue appointing members.

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