“Anne Arundel County is one of the few jurisdictions in the entire country where citizens have no say in the selection of members of their local school board. Members of our County school board should be selected through the democratic process, not through a highly political appointment process.”
Delegate Steve Schuh
Approximately 76,300 students attend public school in Anne Arundel County. Hopefully most of their parents can name their child’s teacher. The majority can probably name their child’s principal, too. Some may be able to name the president of the school PTA. But, how many can name at least one member of the school board, or explain the function of the school board? Not nearly as many, to be sure—even though, every year, the board sets policies and makes decisions that directly affect each and every child in public school.
School boards receive their authority from the state legislature. School board members are local citizens entrusted with the responsibility of administering the operation of the schools within their district. School boards are one of the few governing bodies that carry out all three of the primary functions in the American system of government—executive, legislative, and judicial.
School boards make decisions in three key areas: school budgets, school property, and school policies. These include budgeting annual expenses, new projects, or capital improvements, and payment toward debt from previous school construction. Members develop and review policies that relate to the school budget and school property, as well as personnel, enrollment, student attendance, and curriculum guides and courses of study for the schools.
Nationally, more than 95 percent of school boards are elected. In Maryland, the majority are elected, but a few are still comprised of members appointed by the governor. This includes Anne Arundel County. The decision of whether a school board is elected or appointed is made on a county-by-county basis by the Maryland legislature. In Anne Arundel County, some people would prefer a board that operates with a combination of elected and appointed members. Right now, very few school systems are operating with what has become known as a “hybrid” board.
Delegate Steve Schuh would like to see Anne Arundel County become one of the few. Schuh and Delegate Tony McConkey are sponsoring a bill that would gradually change the Board of Education. House Bill 367 would have five of the currently appointed members of the board complete their term, and then their vacancy would be filled by elected members until the majority of those serving are elected.
Schuh believes parents should have the last word in education, saying, “Members of the Anne Arundel County school board should be directly accountable to parents, not to the Governor of the State of Maryland. Parents should have a direct say in the choice of who oversees the education of their children.”
Many agree with Schuh, believing elected boards are more responsive to the community—the voters who elected them. They believe it provides a more democratic selection, giving people a direct voice in who makes school decisions. In Maryland, the current school boards that are elected are done so on a non-partisan basis. Any registered voter may vote for board members in primary elections regardless of party affiliation. In addition, candidates may file their candidacy and appear on the ballot without party affiliation.
Proponents of appointed boards maintain that this provides for greater selectivity in choosing members. Appointed members may generate less public controversy as they do not need to develop specific issues for public appeal. McConkey disagrees, “The current system reinforces the status quo, it allows insiders to select other insiders and so we will never get any real reform under the current system. Under the current system board members are insulated and therefore less responsive to the demands and concerns of parents and taxpayers.”
McConkey feels a hybrid board will make the public more involved in board decisions saying, “I believe the election process of having candidates attend public forums and share their vision for our school system will encourage more public input and involvement in our education system.”
HB 367 seems to give parents a voice while appeasing both those who favor elected school boards and those who favor appointed. To view the bill in its entirety, visit http://mlis.state.md.us/2012rs/bills/hb/hb0367f.pdf.
For more information, contact:
Delegate Steve Schuh
Delegate Tony McConkey