For the second time in as many meetings, Wicomico County Council is devoting time to the question of eventually adopting an elected school board. The last meeting, a daytime affair, only drew five participants which split evenly on the question because one was apparently neutral. This will not do.
You may recall that earlier this year the County Council passed a similar resolution and dutifully carried it to our legislators in Annapolis, who introduced both a Senate and House version. As it turned out, the Senate version remained “clean” through the Senate, but both the House and Senate bills were amended by the House Ways and Means Committee (with a little prodding from Delegate Norm “Five Dollar” Conway) to include a second question on whether voters are against the appointed system. Because the two versions were markedly different, SB981 did not become law despite passing both the House and Senate with just one negative vote. (For the record, the “no” vote was cast by Delegate Nathaniel Oaks of Baltimore City.)
The idea of a “hybrid” school board is floated by a very small minority which appears dead set on maintaining the governor’s role in selecting our school board, presumably because a Democrat will most likely be elected governor in this state. The key players in this opposition are Mary Ashanti of the Wicomico County NAACP, County Council member Sheree Sample-Hughes, who has been the lone County Council member opposed to the idea, County Executive Rick Pollitt, and Delegate Conway. They fret that the elected school board may not have a minority member despite the fact that most proposals being floated about an elected school board’s composition would break down the membership similarly to County Council’s, with the same districts used and perhaps two additional at-large members.
But the question becomes one of how much say should we give the state in how to run our board of education? It’s bad enough that the flexibility and autonomy once deferred to local districts has gone by the wayside as both state and federal agencies compete over who can usurp more local control – some skeptics say that having an elected school board would make as much difference as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
There’s still the question of accountability, though. Over a five-year term, those currently serving are essentially locked into place. To be selected or reappointed for a second five-year term they only have to impress a small body of perhaps four to five Central Committee members (depending on party, as Democrats elect seven Central Committee members while Republicans elect nine) in order to send their names on to the governor’s Secretary of Appointments. (The current Secretary was O’Malley’s deputy mayor in Baltimore, so there’s little chance of independent thought there. Worthy of note is that she also chaired the Redistricting Committee, but that’s a story for another time.)
It’s quite likely the small but vocal opposition will be out in force trying to be the squeaky wheel, so on Tuesday it’s important to get the drop on them and overwhelm them with sheer numbers. If they send up one person to state the case for the unsatisfactory status quo, we need to send three to four up to rebut their statements. We should flood the e-mail accounts of County Council demanding they stand firm to their vote and their resolution to demand action on an elected school board for a vote in 2012. Action delayed is accountability denied.
Update: This just came from County Council President Gail Bartkovich – seems the Wicomico County Board of Education has slated a “Community Budget Awareness Meeting” in the same time slot as the County Council meeting but over at Parkside High School. Coincidence?
I like the part about “how YOU can support Wicomico Schools in the effort to secure funding for an outstanding education for the children of Wicomico County.” (Emphasis in original.) In other words, we want you to support the tax increases we desire.