There is a BCPS announcement in this issue of the Northwest Voice that invites interested persons to apply to serve on the School Board Nominating Commission. The role of this commission is to submit a list of nominees from which the Governor can appoint four at-large members to the Baltimore County Board of Education. It is part of a change coming next year, that will make the school board a hybrid of elected and appointed members, effective December 2018. This change is the result of legislation that passed the Maryland General Assembly during the 2014 and 2017 sessions.
For years, all 12 members of the Board of Education have been appointed, and was comprised of one member representing each of the seven councilmanic districts, four members at large and a student member. It used to be that people would submit their recommendations for board members directly to the Governor, but now they will go through the commission.
To remind you want the school board does: By law, it is authorized, with the advice of the County Superintendent, to set the educational policies of the county school system on school policy, school budget and school property. The board also hires the school superintendent.
Initially, the prospect of an elected school board seemed like a great idea to me. And I was surprised to find out that 95 percent of school boards in the country have elected school boards, according to the National School Board Association.
Now what gives me pause is how the concept of democracy might work here.
Most of us consider it a good thing for people to decide what is best for their government, their state and their community by having elections. Indeed, the majority should rule. It is a time tested concept that has worked in countless situations.
My question: Is democracy good for everything? Democracy is about choosing leaders who will make decisions on our behalf. The community should have the right to decide what’s good for our schools. We, as voters, should elect people to represent us so, hopefully, our voices and positions are being heard.
But what if majority gets it wrong or we send the wrong people to office?
It will be interesting to see what type of direction the hybrid board will take. People say an appointed school board may not be as responsive to the people. In elections, you can put chose not to re-elect. Because constituents did not put board members in their positions, they can’t take remove them. The wrong people can do a lot of damage.
As we know, not nearly enough of us participate in the election process. But when those who do participate make the wrong decisions, we suffer.
One good example is 45 miles away in the White House. Donald Trump was elected and now we have to live with some decisions that generally are viewed as counterproductive to the American way.
Certainly, politics are part of just about everything we do. Knowing what I know about politics, we are politicizing the school system by having elected school board members. Like with any election, we will have to pay attention to the people who are running for a number of reasons.
What kind of expertise will people bring to the board? How will the candidates’ attitudes, motivations and decisions shape our children’s future? Plus, how do we ensure racial diversity and gender diversity? Your may recall that the Northwest Voice published an article about the lack of diversity on the school board, especially when compared with the diversity of county residents, and why diversity matters.
With financing a critical component of a campaign, which candidates will have the money to wage a competitive race? Who will be able to best promote themselves? Who will be persuaded by special and outside interests? How active will special interests be in putting their representatives on the board? How active will the community be in the political process?
I believe the most effective board member will be the one who is a selfless advocate for education, children and public schools. It’s about our children and our future.
This is how the elections for school board members will work, according to the Board of Elections: The board is supposed to be non partisan and can’t be on any other candidate’s ballot, such as for Governor, County Executive, Senate or the House of Delegates. Candidates can run in the primary and the top two vote getters in the primary will compete in the general election.
If only one candidate files from a district, there won’t be a need for a run in the primary. If more than one person runs, the Board of Election creates a separate ballot that is handed out just for the school board election. If more than two candidates run in a councilmanic district, the election board will select the top two winners from the district and hold a runoff in the general election.
If no one files to run, the governor gets to appoint the member in that district.
The primary election is in June. More than ever, we need to educated and informed about any and all candidates who wish to run for the school. (By the way, nobody has filed to run for school board in any district.)
Anyone interested in running for the school board should contact the Board of Elections for more details. There is a $25 filing fee and the deadline to file is 9 p.m. on Feb. 27.