Elected school board bid fails

The Baltimore Sun

A grassroots effort to get more say in selecting Anne Arundel County's school board has failed after a petition drive to put the issue on the Nov. 6 general election ballot came up 275 names short.

Citizens for an Elected School Board in Anne Arundel County and freshman state Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire collected 6,726 signatures between the end of the legislative session April 9 and May 30, said Mary Cramer Wagner, director of voter registration for the Maryland Board of Elections.

The group was required to submit 6,264 -- a third of the total required -- by the deadline.

But more than 700 signatures were invalid, the majority because they came from unregistered Maryland voters, Cramer Wagner said. Other problems included duplicate signatures, undated signatures and those from voters who live outside Anne Arundel County.

Simonaire, a Pasadena Republican who sponsored a bill during the legislature to require an elected school board, said the fact that supporters were able to collect nearly 6,000 valid signatures in just over a month shows that this is what the public wants.

"Our enemy really was time," he said. "I think this convincingly shows we did have support for a directly elected school board."

The petition would have created a ballot measure asking voters whether they approved of a new law that requires the governor to select appointees from a list recommended by a new 11-member nominating commission. Previously, the governor was allowed to ignore public recommendations and designate his own nominees.

The new law, proposed by Sen. John C. Astle, a Democrat from Annapolis, at the behest of County Executive John R. Leopold, was known as the compromise bill because it gives the public the chance to veto unpopular school board members' chances at a second term. It takes effect July 1.

Simonaire objects to the new Law, saying it gives the governor too much power by allowing him to select nearly half of the members on the nomination commission. Under Astle's bill, the school board nominating commission would be made up of five members appointed by the governor and six selected by the county executive, the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce, the county Council of Parent Teacher Associations, the Anne Arundel Community College board of trustees and the Association of Education Leaders.

Until this year, groups of more than 50 voters could select their own delegate to the nominating commission. Simonaire said the new selection process cuts out public input.

Greg Kline, chairman of Citizens for an Elected School Board, said yesterday he was disappointed about the petition drive falling short. He was able to get 30 to 50 volunteers to go door to door, stand outside shopping centers and patrol high school graduations in hopes of gathering 18,000-plus signatures by June 30.

Calling his group's efforts "amazing," Kline urged volunteers to keep the faith. "We are seeking more information and exploring our options, but it would appear that our petition drive has fallen painfully short," he wrote on a blog.

Simonaire said he would continue to lobby colleagues to either support another direct-elections bill next year or to make amendments to the new law to allow for more local input. He said he believes the county eventually will have a directly elected school board, which would put it in line with current trends. Nationally, the public elects the majority of school boards. By 2008, just six of the Maryland's 24 jurisdictions will have an appointed school board.

"The trend is to give empowerment to the people in local education," Simonaire said.

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