Electing our Board of Education members by district will lead to better and more complete representation for all the voters of Howard County. It will allow individual district representatives to bring attention to the needs of their individual school communities while continuing to serve the county school system as a whole.
Howard County has 5 council districts and 7 Board of Education seats. The bill before you provides for 5 of those seats to be aligned with the council districts already in place, and the remaining 2 seats elected at large. All members of the Board of Education would still be elected; all citizens of Howard County would still get their say.
Many here tonight have argued that every citizen of Howard County should have the right to vote for all 7 members of the Board of Education. But the fact is that a large percentage of Howard County citizens aren’t voting for Board of Education at all. In 2010, 50% of the voters who cast a vote for governor did not cast a vote for a Board of Education member. There were 8 candidates on the general election ballot and 13 on the primary ballot– way too many platforms for most people to care to follow. I was on the ballot then and in 2012 and 2014, and to this day Howard County voters I met during the campaign continue to ask me “did you win?” In addition, the practice of choosing 4, or even 3 in the alternate election year, dilutes each person's vote and results in a lot of voter confusion.
The change to districts would make the elections more meaningful by bringing our Board of Education representatives closer to the voters, making them experts in the issues facing their school communities and advocates for their constituents. It is the purest definition of representative democracy. We vote for one county council member to represent our interests on the county council and advocate for the needs of our community, but the five of them also work as a unit for the good of the county. The same is true for all of you elected by district to the state legislature, but opponents of this bill would imply that renders you incapable of serving your district constituents and acting for the good of the state of Maryland at the same time.
In addition, by including a provision in the bill to elect the 2 remaining seats at-large, voters would still have a countywide voice in addition to voting for their district representative.
The fact is that Howard County is growing at a fast pace, with a population of over 287,000 people, over 55,000 students (and climbing) and 76 schools (and counting). So how big does Howard County have to get before we admit we have outgrown the 7 member all at-large system? Decades ago, when the county council went from being elected at-large to elected by district, the issues were the same; a population that was outgrowing the ability of the members of the council to know and represent the needs of people living in various parts of the county. That's exactly where our school system is now. I hope you will all support this bill to elect of our Board of Education by 5 council districts and 2 seats elected at-large.