May 20, 2018
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An Elected School Board For Anne Arundel County

Steve Schuh
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April 19, 2017

Last month was historic for our county, our school system, our parents and our students. In a stunning and complete turnaround in policy, state legislators voted to replace Anne Arundel County's appointed school board with an elected school board.

I have consistently pushed for an elected school board for more than a decade, and I applaud our House and Senate delegations for giving our constituents the power to choose their school board representatives. Giving our citizens a direct say in their school board is long overdue, particularly given that the board controls more than $1 billion in taxpayer funds, including nearly all funds raised in property taxes.

For decades, Anne Arundel County has had a fully appointed, rather than elected, school board. Our board is currently appointed by the governor, with nominees sent to the governor by a little-known group called the School Board Nominating Commission. Anne Arundel County is the only jurisdiction in the state today with a wholly appointed school board.

This appointment system has generally worked for the benefit of the majority party in Maryland, which is, of course, the Democratic Party. The arrangement of (usually) Democratic governors and the (usually) Democrat-dominated School Board Nominating Commission assured that the Democratic Party would maintain a hammerlock on the nine-member school board. During the 10 years of existence of this current system, Republicans rarely held more than one of these nine seats, which is a strikingly unrepresentative arrangement for a county that votes 50-50 Democrat-Republican.

Republicans, Democrats and Independents have different views and priorities when it comes to education, including such critical issues as charter schools, the budget, standardized testing and curriculum. Packing the board with members of one political party who generally agree on all major issues is not healthy for our school system and is not in the best interests of children in the long run. An institution as important as the school board should reflect the full breadth of perspectives in our county so that all ideas have a seat at the table.

So what changed? Two things: public awareness and Governor Larry Hogan.

Public awareness of the dysfunction of the existing appointment system has grown in recent years thanks to the persistent efforts of various legislators. Over the past decade, despite sometimes fierce resistance, legislators like Delegate Tony McConkey, Senator Bryan Simonaire, Delegate Sid Saab, Delegate Meagan Simonaire and I have introduced legislation for and spoken up forcefully in favor of an elected school board that is accountable to parents and citizens rather than to elected officials. The inequity and politically manipulated nature of the current system is now clear for all to see.

The second thing that changed is that Governor Hogan has appointed both Democrats and Republicans to the school board and ended the Democrats’ near-monopoly. Prior to a recent resignation, the school board consisted of four Democrats, four Republicans and one student. This turn of events has rankled the county's and state's Democratic leadership and led them to conclude that it's better to take their chances at the ballot box rather than to risk the possibility that the governor would appoint a Republican majority to the school board.

The winners in all this are the parents, students and citizens of Anne Arundel County. Supporting the county's system of public education is local government's most important responsibility, and the system's governing body should be accountable to the people and not to political powerbrokers who appoint them. I am hopeful that strong candidates will run to represent their communities and to make our schools the best in the state by implementing policies that benefit taxpayers and our children.

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