Of school board proposals, Saab's is the best
Elections have consequences — sometimes years down the road. If 2017 goes down as the year in which Anne Arundel County moved to an at least partially elected school board, it's fallout from what happened in 2014, when the county not only elected a Republican county executive with strong views on education but gained a Republican governor ready to back him up.
This led to last year's messy legislative and legal battle over the make-up of the committee that recommends board appointees to the governor. It was enough to push Democratic legislators to scrap the longtime opposition to an elected school board that has made Anne Arundel an outlier in Maryland: the only county hanging on to a fully appointed board.
Given traditional legislative courtesy, the decision is up to the county's General Assembly delegation, which has three proposals on the table:
•Del. Sid Saab, R-Crownsville, proposes seven board members elected by councilmanic district, with one member appointed by the county executive. Not surprisingly, this is the option County Executive Steve Schuh favors.
•The delegation chairwoman, Del. Pam Beidle, D-Linthicum, wants seven members elected by councilmanic district and one elected countywide.
•State Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Pasadena, suggests a 10-member board, seven elected by councilmanic district and three appointed by a commission — basically the same as today's School Board Nominating Commission, but with the county executive's appointees removed.
We sympathize with Simonaire's argument that retaining appointed members may be the only guarantee of diversity on the board. But after last year's vicious battling over which organizations and interests ought to be represented on the nominating commission, it may be a lost cause to try to turn over the selection of three board members to essentially the same panel, this time without the governor to screen its decisions.
On balance, we like Saab's proposal best. Given that the school system accounts for more than half the county's operating and capital spending, it's reasonable to give its government at least one voice on the board that draws up the school budget. But Schuh forgets that he's not the entire remainder of county government, and that there's a legislative branch that also has to approve the school budget. The county executive's appointment to the school board should be subject to the advice and consent of the County Council.
Beidle's proposal has the advantage of simplicity. If the county is going to start electing school board members, why not go to a fully elected board, like 18 other Maryland jurisdictions? What we don't like is the creation of an at-large board seat. This is likely to turn into an election for the school board presidency — if not for a sort of understudy to the county executive, the only other official elected countywide. Having an elected school board will inevitably inject more political maneuvering into the system, but this may take it a step too far.
The plan that eventually emerges from the county delegation will probably be a combination of two or more of the pieces of legislation on the table. We have no idea of the exact form the finished bill will take — but it's highly likely county voters will find at least some potential school board members on their ballots next year.