RETAIN fully elected Board of Education!
There is a proposed STATE BILL, 10-23, to make two of the Howard County Board of Education seats APPOINTED BY THE COUNTY EXECUTIVE (from a list drawn by the Hoco Delegation (our local Senators and Delegates). There is a hearing on 12/14 at 7PM at the George Howard Building. A rally in opposition to this change to our election system in Howard County will be held prior to the hearing at 6:15pm. See FB event, and note attendance if you can HERE. There is widespread bipartisan opposition to this Bill. Democratic Council Member Liz Walsh, Republican Council Member David Yungmann, and recently former Board of Education Chair Member Vicky Cutroneo will be speaking at the rally, opposing the Bill.
You can sign up to testify, or send emailed testimony. Note this LINK to see how to sign-up to testify (MUST by 6:30PM 12/14) or email. See the proposed local State legislation HERE, including Bill 10-23 regarding the proposed change to the Board of Education elections. See also Bill 7-23 requiring disclosure of campaign contributionsin Columbia Association and Village Board elections, a good one to support.
Please share this information with friends and neighbors to speak out as much as possible regarding your opinion on whether the voters should continue to elect our Board of Education Members.
My take on these issues:
It is commendable to include the Columbia Association and Village Board elections in requiring disclosure of contributions to campaigns. We need transparency therein due to the power and ability to affect a large amount of land use decisions, and budgets.
I deeply oppose having any Board of Education member positions be appointed. The reasons publicized so far, for this proposed change do not warrant disenfranchising Howard County voters. Whether it be problematic multi-county senatorial districts, proposed in the Bill, or even worse, taking away the 2 at-large seats from voters, by keeping the current Councilmanic districts, the Bill will worsen collaboration, increase politics within the Board, and not meet any stated goals for the change.
We have seen a few publicized reasons for this proposed change. The implementation of Blueprint, with large increases in Education funding across the State, has made legislators feel they want more "skin in the game" of control of the Board of Education that makes the budgeting request decisions to the County Executive. They want to provide a list of candidates from whom the County Executive would appoint two countywide members.
The State giving more money to our school system, and wanting more accountability and control of the Board of Education is no reason to thwart voters. Whether it be low turnout concerns, or desiring a larger degree of fiscal expertise, there is no difference regarding these concerns in the Board of Ed Elections than in State and other offices. Also, our elected officials often seek expert opinions to assist in their work, for instance, when their personal expertise lies in other fields like medical, insurance, legal, etc.
Blueprint has its own safeguards for implementation. The notion that elected members cannot meet a duty of fiscal responsibility in their work, so appointed folks are needed, is unwarranted. Too many fringe candidates being elected and possibly trampling on rights is a rumored fear, yet, we have seen so far, that our current system has not produced a voting block of concern. We should give more time to our current long-fought for system, to enable successful diversity combined with countywide constituency, to show its benefits. The reason the change was made creating our current system was the deep desire to increase accountability with smaller jurisdictions after the debacle of the years where former Superintendent Foose controlled the Board of Ed, who renewed her contract against widespread, countywide, bipartisan disagreement. It took so much effort to set the right course after that. It took some time, but we finally got the election process for Board of Ed changed to 5 of the 7 seats being by council district, instead of all elected countywide. Arguments made at the time included the fact that voters got it right, (ousting the Members who supported Foose), so why change things? But, the counter was that needing change should not reach the level of such dire inappropriateness, for voters to be reached, so more constituent responsibility was needed and ended up being agreed upon and the change was made, with much thanks to Delegate Atterbeary. The community will feel appointed members would be more beholden to those appointing than the voters.
Amendments to this Bill cannot improve the process. The process should remain the same. Concerns about voter turnout, that exist in every race, can be addressed with projects to get out the vote. Concerns about fiscal expertise can be addressed with training, maybe increased pay, and are already addressed, again, as in every other position, with assistance. Concerns about Members being too parochial should be arguments to leave things the same, as this proposed change makes it more likely Members will come from the same area, not less. Concerns about the voters “getting it wrong”? Maybe enact the right of recall in Howard County to make sure no egregious, unexpected acts take place.
Some are suggesting we add Council seats. That makes sense, given we have added none since the inception of the Council over 50 years ago, but that isn’t going to help the Board of Education election process, since we should still include at-large members. Another alternative is adding more Members, namely 2 appointed, which would lessen possible fringe influences but brings a lot of its own problems, fiscal and procedural, and inordinate control by a small group instead of the taxpaying voters. The best thing to do, at this time, is to withdraw this Bill, and discuss County election concerns specifically and clearly with direct proposed solutions, not assumptions that appointed choices would do so much better than voters’ choices.