Elected Baltimore County School Board bill fails
Wednesday, 06 March 2013 12:14

Bill is voted down by county delegation

by Nicole Rodman

    A bill that sought to create a partially-elected Baltimore County school board failed to pass the county’s Senate delegation in a close vote on Feb. 19.
    Baltimore County’s eight state senators were one vote short, voting 4 to 4 to pass the bill.
    Had the bill passed the county delegation, it would have gone to the entire Senate, where legislative courtesy would have made it nearly certain to pass.
    The bill has been introduced six times previously, failing each time.
    Currently, the twelve members of the county school board are all appointed by the governor.
    Intially, the bill, introduced by Owings Mills Sen. Bobby Zirkin, sought to add six elected members to the board, with five being appointed by the governor. The 12th  member would, as always, be a Baltimore County Public School student.

In the last few weeks, however, an amendment altered the bill to seven elected board members to reflect the county’s seven council districts. Four members of the board would continue to be appointed.
    A bill seeking to create a school board consisting of six elected members was defeated last year in the General Assembly after passing the Senate.
    At that time, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz lobbied heavily against the bill.
    In a letter to Sheila Hixson, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Kamenetz wrote last year, “I am extremely concerned that introducing an elective component will introduce racial and religious tensions where none exist today.”   
    Asked for comment from Kamenetz’ office on this year’s failure of the school board bill, county spokesperson Ellen Kobler declined to comment.
    While it looked as if this year’s bill would pass the Senate’s Baltimore County delegation, Sen. Ed Kasemeyer, who represents Catonsville and a portion of Howard County, voted against the bill, creating a split vote.
    Kasemeyer voted in favor of the bill last year and approved the amendments to this year’s bill.
    When asked by the Owings Mills-Reistertown Patch why he decided to change his vote, Kasemeyer explained, “I had mixed feelings about the bill,” adding, “In the long-term I do support an elected school board bill.”
    He cited new Baltimore County Public School Superintendent Dr. Dallas Dance as a factor in his decision.
    “I don’t want to put [Dance] under the gun while they’re just starting out,” he explained, noting, “It was really a matter of timing for me. Maybe next year or the year after, I’d be open to supporting an elected or partially elected school board.”
    Sixth District Sen. Norman Stone voted against the bill.
    “I’ve always opposed elected school boards and I didn’t think the hybrid was much better,” Stone told The Eagle last week, referring to the bill’s effort to create a partially-elected, partially-appointed school board.
    In his remarks, Stone cited a concern that the board would become “too political” as his main reason for voting against the bill.
    When asked to respond to the bill’s supporters, who argue that an elected school board would increase the public’s voice in school board matters, Stone responded, “They have a good argument there. I don’t know why [the public] is not given more of an audience.”
    He added, “I hadn’t even thought of that.”
    Asked if he would consider supporting next year’s bill, which Sen. Zirkin has already vowed to reintroduce, Stone said, “I would be willing to look at anything.”
    For his part, 6th District Del. John Olszewski Jr. remains a staunch supporter of a wholly-elected Baltimore County School Board.
    Del. Olszewski voted for the bill in last year’s session.
    In response to this year’s failure of the school board bill, Del. Olszewski told The Eagle that he was “disappointed with the recent vote in the state Senate that effectively killed the proposal to create a partially elected school board in Baltimore County.”
    He explained, “Considering how much state and county taxpayer money that goes to our school system, and how important the school system is in determining the vibrancy of our communities, it is fair and reasonable to have a system for selecting members of the school board that makes them responsive and directly accountable to the people they represent.
    Olszewski, who served as the county school board’s student member during the 1999-2000 school year, added that while he would ideally like to see an entirely-elected school board, he was willing to accept “a hybrid bill as a compromise to introduce public participation and accountability into the school board process.”
    The failure of the partially-elected school board bill leaves many supporters disappointed, including many parents of Eastwood Elementary Magnet School students.
    Under a proposal currently before the school board, Eastwood is slated to close at the end of the current school year.
    Many parents argue that an elected school board would be more receptive to the voices of the people, many of whom oppose the plan to close Eastwood.
    In addition, citizen advocacy groups such as Advocates for Baltimore County Schools (ABC Schools) also argued in favor of at least a partially-elected school board.
    “A hybrid school board would ensure that much-needed checks and balances would be in place at any time and under any leadership,” the group wrote on their website at www.abcschoolsmd.org/issues-school-board-composition.html.
    The statement continued, “No matter who serves as governor, county executive, or superintendent of schools, the board would include independent-thinking representatives chosen by the people, not political appointees merely rubber-stamping decisions handed down from above.”
    While the Senate bill, and its cross-filed House version, are effectively dead, Sen. Zirkin and others vow to reintroduce the bill for an eighth try next year.