Towson-area legislators to tackle hybrid school board again

State legislators from the Towson area will again push for adoption of a partially elected Baltimore County School Board when the 434th session of the Maryland General Assembly convenes Wednesday.

During the past several sessions, Baltimore County legislators have fought for an at least "hybrid" school board, made up of partly elected and partly appointed members. Currently, board positions are filled by appointment from the governor with input from the county executive.

"If you have an elected school board, these are people who have a bigger stake in the community," said Sen. Jim Brochin, who represents District 42. "Their kids probably go to public school, and it just makes the administration and superintendent's office more accountable."

In recent years, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz has opposed the change despite reform legislation pressing for both fully elected and hybrid school boards.

The reform proposals died early in the 2013 session, when a hybrid school board bill failed to pass a vote within the Baltimore County Senate delegation. In 2012, a hybrid school board bill passed a full vote in the Senate, but was held up in the House Ways and Means Committee until hours before the session ended. The bill ultimately never made it to the House floor for a vote.

This year, Brochin and his colleagues representing the 42nd District in the House — Dels. Bill Frank, Susan Aumann and Steve Lafferty — are optimistic that the struggle could finally put elected members on the school board.

"I've heard rumors that certain senators have been convinced by the advocates, the teachers, the parents who are on the same page," Brochin said. "I've heard the chances are half-decent."

Del. Bill Frank said he also thinks "this may be the year we finally get it done."

"I think the consensus seems to be that a hybrid school board might be the way to go," Frank said. "I think the county executive remains opposed to it, and he certainly has some influence with the delegation, but I believe the citizens want some accountability. This is the year we're going to get this done."

School board reform would provide more transparency, which Aumann said constituents need. Aumann cited the lack of dialogue between community leaders and school officials around the proposal to open a school at the site of the former Loch Raven Elementary.

Though Brochin is a Democrat, his goal of providing citizens tax relief is in line with Towson's two Republican legislators, Frank and Aumann.

Aumann said that during her door-to-door campaigning, she frequently encounters residents who are preparing to move to out-of-state for tax purposes.

"I'm hoping that we have some sort of tax relief, or at least that we don't tax anymore," she said. "I think people have just hit the wall."

Frank said he hopes the General Assembly can "work overtime to protect the taxpayers this year."

"The problem is we've piled on so much over the last seven years," Frank said. "Not it's an election year and we're trying to give the taxpayer a break — but it's too little too late."

Each legislator said they have their own personal goals as well.

Brochin is pushing reform that would change which previous criminal acts are admissible as evidence in court, as well as legislation that increases the sentence for second-degree murder from 30 years to 40 years.

Lafferty said he will fight for no changes to the pollution run-off fee, which was implemented in the state in 2013.

"I think there's a lot of misinformation about why we need it, the impact and the value," Lafferty said. "I know there's going to be a big fight in Annapolis this year, but it's the one sector of pollution in the bay that continues to grow, so my hope is we don't give in to the sector of people who want it repealed because it's too important."

Aumann said she will push for fiscal responsibility and legislation that requires seat belts on school buses, while Frank said he would again submit a bill that exempts military pensions from state taxes.

Frank submitted a similar bill last year, and said a similar plan forwarded this year by Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown could help his cause.

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