A couple weeks ago I covered the first of four hearings on the potential for an elected school board. At that time I pledged to add some history and context to my remarks from the other day.
First of all, the recent history of the attempt to get an elected school board has both a local component and a state component. I was elected to the Republican Central Committee in 2006, and one item which we agreed to pursue was an elected school board. Unfortunately, the composition of county government at the time didn’t lend itself to further action on the subject. It wasn’t until the election in 2010, when a GOP supermajority was elected to County Council, that local legislative action occurred.
In both 2011 and 2012, the County Council passed legislation on a 6-1 party-line vote to ask the Maryland General Assembly for the enabling legislation for a referendum question to be set before voters. It would simply ask whether voters wanted to adopt an elected school board.
The 2011 version of the bill, HB1324/SB981, was sponsored by six local Delegates and both local Senators, and each version passed its respective legislative body overwhelmingly – the only “nay” vote came from Delegate Nathaniel Oaks of Baltimore City. SB981 passed both houses, but the amended House version did not return to the Senate for a vote.
In the House, the Ways and Means Committee amended the bill in a curious way. They revised the referendum question to read, “Are you against changing the changing the current method of selection of the members of the Wicomico County Board of Education of appointment by the governor?” It seems the idea was to confuse the voter.
The next year HB966/SB99 was introduced by the four Republican delegates and both Senators. This time, though, the bills did not progress beyond the hearing stage.
In 2013 and 2014, no legislation was passed locally nor was any introduced in the General Assembly. The feeling was that there were three roadblocks to the process: Rudy Cane, Norm Conway, and Rick Pollitt. None of those three survived the 2014 election, so we were hopeful the process would be on its way once 2015 began.
There were two key differences in the 2015 version of the bill, though. In an effort to foster a united front, County Council allowed for the idea of a hybrid elected/appointed board of five elected and two appointed by the County Executive with approval from the County Council. Indeed, that version passed 7-0 and was sent up in February.
But the bill was stalled in committee, with the problem determined to be the lack of having both Senators on board. Senator Mathias requested more hearings and public input on the issue, so County Council has arranged the four hearings with plenty of time to pre-file a bill once the hearings are over.
It’s been pointed out frequently that Wicomico County is one of the few without an elected board. Back in 2002 just half of Maryland’s counties had an elected school board. Since then, Caroline, Cecil, Dorchester, Harford, Prince George’s, Somerset, and Talbot counties have switched over to elected (or mostly-elected) boards, while Anne Arundel County now has retention elections for its appointed members.
So the precedent for change is certainly there on the Shore and around the state. A number of counties have been allowed to proceed with their wishes over the last dozen years, but there always seems to be a roadblock when it comes to us. It is long past time to clear the way for us to decide as so many others in the state get to.
I am aware there are naysayers who say it doesn’t matter who is on the school board for the tune is called in Annapolis. But we have some creative folks around here who may figure out a few alternatives to really help our schools become better, and I don’t think they would have a prayer of being appointed through the process in place. Let them make the case to the parents who vote, not the faceless bureaucrats in Annapolis.