Driving the Point Home

My guest column regarding an elected school board in Saturday’s Gazette was not necessarily based on this topic, but the story in today’s Capital regarding the partisan composition of the Anne Arundel County School Board does reinforce the point:

Anne Arundel County may run red during elections, but its school board has turned almost completely blue.

Just one Republican remains on the Board of Education; the other seven adult members are all registered Democrats. Even the student board member, who’s too young to register and hasn’t picked a party, said she supported President Barack Obama in 2008.

Against the rest of the county, which generally votes conservatively, that Democratic majority is a mismatch. Voters have chosen a Republican county executive and Republicans for four out of seven seats on the County Council, and in 2008 they voted for Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

My support of an elected School Board has little to do with party affiliation and more to do with the fact that the current members of the Board are not held accountable for their actions. But as the story notes, the current make up of the Anne Arundel County School Board does not reflect the political culture or the will of the people of Anne Arundel County.

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Surely, nobody in their right mind thinks that education is inherently partisan. However, when you consider the issues related to the teachers union and the fact that half of the county budget is spent on education you begin to realize that there is a serious problem with the way that we select our School Board. That’s a point that State Senator Bryan Simonaire notes:

The change was supposed to make the process more democratic, but observers such as

Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Pasadena, note the governor gets to appoint five of the 11 commissioners, giving him more control than appears at first blush.

“There’s a lot of smoke screens, but when you get down to the bottom and realize who’s appointing these appointees, it’s a political process,” said Simonaire, who has advocated for the county to have an elected school board. “It’s not fair when … one party dominates the board.”

To that end Senator Simonaire, along with Delegates McConkey, Costa, Dwyer, George, King, Kipke, and Schuh, are sponsoring SB765/HB1083, a bill that would retain the current appointment process, but allow for other candidates to participate in a nonpartisan election much in the same way that Circuit Court nominees can be challenged. This would alleviate a lot of the qualms that people have with the School Board selection process as (finally) people would have the ability to have a real, legitimate choice in electing their School Board members.

In issues such as education, the will of the parents, teachers, and taxpayers need to be heard. And the current process is about as undemocratic as you can get. Hopefully, us folks here in Anne Arundel County will get a legitimate chance to elect our School Board members.


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