By Liz Bowie, The Baltimore Sun
September 10, 2011
A legislative task force considering ways to improve the selection of Baltimore County school board members abruptly decided Friday to rule out recommending the addition of any elected board members.
State Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a Pikesville Democrat, said he would try to undo the vote, which came after a contentious debate. The board had been considering several options, including an all-elected or mixed board.
"Nobody said there was going to be a vote of the task force, much less that it was going to be today. It was insulting to the members who weren't there and the citizens of Baltimore County," Zirkin said. Republican members of the task force and several others who support a hybrid board — partly appointed and partly elected — were not at the meeting.
School board members are appointed by the governor, often with recommendations from the county executive. Those opposed to a hybrid or elected board have said they believe it would reduce the number of minorities on the board in a county where the majority of schoolchildren are nonwhite.
Zirkin and James Campbell, a task force member and former legislator, said there is a growing interest on the task force of having a commission nominate citizens to the school board. The governor would make the appointments, but as with Circuit Court judges, members of the school board would have to run for office after their first term in the volunteer job.
Campbell said he voted against a hybrid or elected board because he believes that generally people are satisfied with the school system. "People feel good about the system. There are some problems with the superintendent and the board," he said. But Campbell believes there are ways to make the board more representative of the community by requiring, for instance, that it have a parent on it.
Zirkin said he is interested in the idea of having a nominating commission and subsequent election because it blends the idea of an appointed and elected school board. Campbell said the former county executive and task force member, James Smith, would make a detailed proposal at the next meeting of the task force, which has not been scheduled.
Any change to the board selection process would require an act of the legislature. Lawmakers could still add elected members, even without a recommendation from the advisory task force.