School board bill moves on to House

The Baltimore Sun

With less than a month before the General Assembly adjourns, supporters of an elected school board are fighting to get a bill passed that would phase in a majority-elected board.

Senate Bill 306, introduced by Sen. Barry Glassman, a Harford County Republican, would have six elected members and three appointed members on the Board of Education for Harford County public schools.

The bill, co-written with Sen. Andy Harris, a Baltimore County Republican, passed in the Committee on Education, Health and Environmental Affairs on Tuesday and was approved Thursday in the Senate by a vote of 45-0.

"The bill is out of the Senate and going over to the House," Glassman said. "It's only halfway there. We've got a bit of work to do."

Under the proposed legislation, the Board of Education would expand to nine members from the current seven. Six members would be elected, one from each council district, and would serve four-year terms. The governor would appoint three members, which is the current practice for the Harford school board.

Glassman's bill originally proposed an elected seven-member school board but was modified in committee after several Harford County members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People voiced concerns that minorities might not be represented.

Eugene Chandler, a NAACP member and a former county Board of Education member, opposed the bill.

"We made it clear we don't think that minorities, particularly blacks, would have a chance at an elected board," he said.

Chandler, who said he was speaking personally and not on behalf of the organization, said: "If we can be assured that minorities will be appointed, I can live with that," referring to a blended school board.

The blended school board is gaining traction as the bill heads to the House.

Parent Cindy Mumby, who has pushed for an elected school board, called the modified bill "a good compromise."

"The majority of the people in Harford County favor an elected school board, but I certainly think that this is an opportunity for everyone on both sides to come together so that the citizens have a voice in the selection of school board member," she said.

Republican County Councilman Richard C. Slutzky, who supports an elected school board, said the compromise is "certainly better than what we have now, which is nothing."

A majority of Harford delegates introduced House Bill 779, the same as Glassman's original Senate bill. That bill has been in the Ways and Means Committee since a public hearing March 4.

The two Democratic delegates, Mary-Dulany James and B. Daniel Riley, abstained from voting on the bill.

Mumby said, "If this legislation [the Senate bill] fails in the House of Delegates, the blame will lay squarely on the shoulders of Mary-Dulaney James and Dan Riley."

Early last month, James and Riley introduced a competing bill in the House, which would create a school board nominating commission, made up of nine groups that would recommend nominees to the governor.

James compared a nominating commission to "a free election," and said: "A free election is better. In campaigns, money and special interest have corrosive effects on who gets elected."

Riley did not respond to telephone and e-mail requests for comment.

Riley and James' bill, House Bill 806, remains in the Ways and Means Committee after a Feb. 27 hearing.

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