Three Howard County Delegation members vote down school board election bill

Lisa Philip
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

State Sens. Gail Bates and Edward Kasemeyer, along with state Del. Robert Flanagan, have voted down legislation that would have created a school board partially elected by districts.

The legislation was sponsored by state Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, a District 13 Democrat, and would have required five of the county school board's seven members to be elected by councilmanic district instead of by countywide vote. Two seats would have remained at-large.

"Our councilmanic districts are creatures of partisan politics, and they are drafted in a manner that is labeled as gerrymandering," Flanagan, a Republican from District 9B, said before the Howard County Delegation's vote Wednesday morning. "So if you apply those districts to the school board, you are going to inject partisan politics into the school board races, whether you like it or not, … That's not the way we want our school board to be elected."

Nine of the 12 members of the county's delegation voted to support the bill. But votes from a majority of the county's three state senators were necessary for it to move onto a vote by the Maryland General Assembly.

State Sen. Guy Guzzone, delegation chairman and District 13 Democrat, was the county's only state senator who voted in support of the bill.

Bates would not support the bill, she said, because she believes that school board members need to look at the system as a whole.

"I'm not sure that this is giving the answer that people want," said the District 9 Republican.

Kasemeyer said he understood that current school board members "appear at times not to be sensitive to people's situations and inquiries," but the District 12 Democrat said he didn't think the solution was to "change the system."

State Del. Frank Turner, a District 13 Democrat, disagreed.

"I will never forget as long as I live the pain I saw in those parents," he said, referring to an education town hall in December at which dozens of parents voiced concerns about the county's school system. "How much they were frustrated, how much they cared about their kids. For any of us to deny a change that we see we should be making — it's incomprehensible! This is the right thing to do."

Atterbeary drafted the bill, she said, because she had heard from many parents who didn't know which board member to turn to with school-related concerns.

"It's a missed opportunity to directly respond to our constituents," Atterbeary said about the vote, "not to get caught up in alliances and problems and allegiances, but to represent the people that we see in our communities and who contact us every day."

Before the vote, the delegation's counsel, Dan Furman, said that the delegation office had received 45 emails in support of Atterbeary's bill, and three emails against it.

"It'll be back," Atterbeary said.

A vote on another local education bill sponsored by state Del. and District 13 Republican Warren Miller that would make denying public information requests more difficult for the county's school system was postponed until next week, to allow time for delegation members to reflect on two amendments approved by unanimous vote Wednesday.

One added an expiration date to the bill so that, if passed into law, it would expire in September 2019. The other removed a section of the bill that would have made the school system's public records custodian liable for perjury should he or she falsely claim a document doesn't exist.

The delegation will vote on the amended public information bill next Wednesday, Feb. 10 at 9 a.m. in room 218 of the House of Delegates office building in Annapolis.

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