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Legislators Move to Create Elections for County School Board

After a failed attempt in 2012, members of Anne Arundel County's delegation are trying again to make the county's school board an elected office.

Members of Anne Arundel County's Statehouse delegation are trying to convert the county School Board from an appointed position to an elected one.

The governor appoints School Board members that are vetted for him by an 11-member School Board Nominating Commission. Once appointed, new members are subjected to a retention vote during the next general election.

"The Board manages regulations around Anne Arundel County schools and control 53 percent of the taxes that every Anne Arundel county taxpayer pays," said Del. Nic Kipke (R-Pasadena). "The bill that we introduced ... is that all the School Board be elected by the people."

Sen. Bryan Simonaire introduced two bills to Maryland's Senate on Jan. 14. One proposes amending the state's education code by terminating the current members' terms and holding non-partisan elections. The second proposes a referendum to Anne Arundel County residents on the 2014 ballot about whether they would like an elected Board.

Anne Arundel is one of four school districts in the state where positions are appointed rather than elected.

"I think a split board is a good idea," said Glen Burnie resident Erika Keller, via Facebook. "The Superintendent should be elected from a pool of previous board members. The board should consist of both elected and appointed members."

During the 2012 legislative session, Simonaire and Del. Tony McConkey introduced the same bill. Nine of the 15 Anne Arundel County delegates voted in support of McConkey's bill—which never got past its committee hearing. Simonaire's 2012 bill was sent to the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee (EHEA) where it received an unfavorable recommendation and died.

Kipke, who chairs Anne Arundel County's House delegation, said they are trying again in 2013 because he and others believe an elected School Board would be more accountable to residents and ultimately make better decisions.

School Board President Andrew Pruski wasn't so sure.

"If you look at Montgomery County and several other counties that have had both elected and appointed, they have had mixed reviews," Pruski said. "They have said it's not really whether you have an appointed or elected board, it’s the passion of the people who serve."

Pruski said he will let the Legislature decide how to structure the Board, but he worried that elections would necessitate fund raising and potentially lead to partisan decision-making on the Board.

"I don’t consider myself political when taking actions," Pruski said. "What kind of membership would be on the Board?"

Bob Mosier, a spokesman for Anne Arundel County Schools, said that just like the previous bills to alter the structure of the School Board, Superintendent Kevin Maxwell will not take a position on this round of legislation.

"From the superintendent’s view, he has been very clear that his belief is that how people arrive on the School Board is not the important thing," Mosier said. "The important thing is the passion and the dedication that they bring with them to that position and their ability and willingness to work for the well-being of the children of this county."

The bill is set for a hearing before the EHEA committee in the Miller Senate Office Building at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday. The public is welcome to attend.

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