Harford's lame duck school board to have a new member majority

With the 2018 state and county election results in the book, the Harford County Board of Education membership will take on a mostly lame duck status for the next seven months, with a majority of the members due to leave next June.

Just two of the sitting board’s nine members are certain to return when the next board is constituted on July 1, 2019. Two others could be back, should Gov. Larry Hogan decide to reappoint them – assuming they want to come back.

The high rate of turnover was somewhat anticipated. Harford has what is known as a hybrid, or blended, board with six members elected — one from each county council district — and three appointed by the governor. There are also term limits in play.

The board also has a 10th member — a high school senior chosen annually by the county’s Regional Association of Student Councils. The 2018-2019 member, Joshua Oltarzewski, of Harford Technical High School, will also leave the board when he graduates next June.

That the adult members’ terms all begin next July 1 is a curious aspect of the state legislation that established Harford’s blended board, setting the election of six members in the same year — with the governor’s appointees serving coterminously with them.

Current elected members are Jansen Robinson (District A), Robert Frisch (District B), Joseph Voskuhl (District C) – the current board president, Nancy Reynolds (District D), Rachel Gauthier (District E) and Thomas Fitzpatrick (District F). Appointed members are Joseph Hau, Al Williamson and Laura Runyeon – the vice president.

In the Nov. 6 election, Robinson, who was unopposed, and Gauthier were re-elected to four-year terms. Frisch reached the successive two-term limit and could not seek another term, while Reynolds and Voskuhl did not run for re-election.

Fitzpatrick lost his re-election bid to Sonia Karwacki. Williamson ran for the District D seat, but lost to Tamara Rush. David Bauer will succeed Frisch in District D and Kathryn Carmello will succeed Voskuhl in District C.

Though he lost his election bid, Williamson is still eligible for reappointment by Hogan, as are Hau and Runyeon. Runyeon previously announced she would serve only a single term and does not want to be reappointed. Neither Hau nor Williamson has said publicly if he wants to return via appointment. (Hau previously served an elected term from 2009 to 2013.)

The new board will also have a different internal dynamic from the current one, which for much of its four years was very narrowly split on many issues with a majority of Voskuhl, Runyeon, Reynolds, Hau and Fitzpatrick and a minority of Frisch, Williamson, Gauthier and Robinson – the latter something of a swing vote.

During the general election, Williamson, Gauthier, Carmello and Karwacki ran as a slate, but for a new majority to emerge will depend both on who the next appointed members are and where Robinson and Bauer decide to cast their lots.

The first test of where the next board is headed will occur when the members, upon taking office, will sit down to select their president and vice president.

Under a recent change in board policy — based on legal counsel’s reading of state law on the subject – the new student representative who succeeds Oltarzewski next summer will have a vote on the choice of board officers, so candidates for president and vice president will need at least six votes to carry a majority.

The next board also will have a majority of members who were not serving when the current board’s decision was made this past June to hire Dr. Sean Bulson as HCPS superintendent. Bulson has a four-year contract that will end in mid-2020, six months before the board taking office this July 1 will see its collective terms expire.

At the Nov. 19 board of education meeting, the two departing members congratulated their opponents.

“Sonia ran a spirited campaign, she worked very hard,” Fitzpatrick said. “We talked at length after the election and I can assure the District F voters that as I leave this post, the voters in District F, the students, the teachers, the staff, will be well-served. I’m confident of that.”

Williamson said he will work with Rush over the next few months to make a smooth transition.

“I’m sure the board will do well with her leadership,” Williamson said.

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avought@theaegis.com

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