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School & Youth
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General Assembly Passes Legislation For Elected Anne Arundel County School Board

Dylan Roche
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April 19, 2017

Promoting community collaboration, developing responsive policies and holding accountability for the results — those are major duties for any organization, but especially for one that’s shaping the future of the next generation.

That’s why, for many years, lawmakers have debated how to best select members of the Anne Arundel County Board of Education, which handles policy, planning and budget for the public school system. The big challenge? Selecting a board that reflects the people it serves and that will see to all the needs and wants they have.

Legislators have now chosen to turn that selection power over to the people. On the last day of the 2017 General Assembly, Maryland’s Senate and House of Delegates passed legislation introduced by Delegate Pam Beidle, chair of the Anne Arundel County Delegation, to create a fully elected school board.

“The new system gives the people a direct voice in electing their school board representative,” explained Senator Bryan Simonaire. “They are elected in each of the councilmanic districts. If people don’t like the redistricting of their schools or any other issue, they can replace them, or at least, the member knows that and must listen to the people.”

Electing members is a change from the current process, whereby a nominating commission makes recommendations to the governor, who ultimately chooses the members of the board. “There's no way to eliminate politics from the process of selecting our school board,” explained Delegate Nic Kipke. “So whichever party had the power used it to ensure that the board members represented appointments of their party. With an elected school board, candidates will have to take their case to the voters and the power will be in their hands.”

Although board positions will be nonpartisan, candidates will run on specific issues. Kipke expects that campaigns will focus on capital improvements to schools, curriculum, student performance, the achievement gap and other important issues.

The board will comprise eight members, one from each of Anne Arundel County’s seven councilmanic districts, and one student member. Terms of elected members will be staggered, and the first four members (from Districts 1, 4, 5 and 7) will be elected in the 2018 general election and begin Monday, December 3. Three other members (Districts 2, 3 and 6) will be elected in the 2020 general election. The first four members will serve a one-time six-year term, and in 2024, all members must stand for election to a four-year term.

Elections, Simonaire said, will mean the school board is better in touch with the concerns of citizens. “If they want to get elected, they will talk with the community to see what educational issues are important,” he said. “Right now, candidates do not need to engage with the public.”

Opponents of a school board election have worried that the process might bring unions or politicians to fund or back candidates, and that without the governor’s appointment, there’s no guarantee of minority representation. Senator Ed DeGrange, the only one among Anne Arundel County’s state senators to oppose the bill, said…

Anne Arundel County Public Schools does not have a stance on the issue. “The Board of Education has not historically taken a position — and did not do so this year — on legislation regarding the composition of the board,” said AACPS spokesman Bob Mosier. “The superintendent, [Dr. George Arlotto], likewise, has no opinion as to how members of the board are chosen for their seats.”

Pasadena’s legislators see the school board selection being politicized no matter how it happens. As Kipke pointed out, unions and lack of minority representation would not be unique to school board elections. “Both of those concerns could apply to any other races as well — delegates, senators and county council,” said Kipke. “However, the people have consistently made choices to support a diversity.”

Simonaire emphasized that now the choice is with voters rather than other elected officials. “I'd rather have the politics be with the people instead of politicians,” he said. “It will be up to the candidates to show why they are a great candidate and the people can make the final determination — not the governor.”

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