Who should sit on our school boards?
Citizens, lawmakers ask whether appointed, elected or hybrid panels do best
When temperatures in the classrooms of Ridgely Middle School reached the high 90s, Julie Sugar and other parents invited Baltimore County school board members to check out the problem. The board members didn’t come — but local lawmakers did.
“That’s when we realized that our school board was not responsive or accountable to the public,” said Sugar, who once headed the middle school’s PTA and is now president of the Loch Raven High School PTA. “And it made us realize that they did not have to be responsive or accountable to the public because the public didn’t put them on the school board.”
Frustrations with the board “reached a tipping point,” and Sugar now is among parents and state lawmakers who are pushing to add elected members to the county’s all-appointed school board. Residents in other localities in the region also have pushed to change the selection of school boards — which approve budgets and craft education policy — but they’ve found no easy answer.
In Baltimore County, members of a panel set up to examine the school board makeup there recently told residents that they could not come up with an answer. In Howard County, a hearing on a proposed change lasted for hours, a day before the plan was withdrawn. And in Baltimore City, a state delegate is proposing to strip the school board of governing power, suggesting that the system might be better off if it was controlled by the mayor like other city agencies.
Despite debates about accountability, local politics, and minority representation, experts say there’s no data showing that students fare better under elected or appointed systems.
“My take on this is that what’s clear is that there’s no perfect system,” said Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, who in August created a school board study commission and had pushed to add appointed members.
Of the state’s 24 school boards, 18 are fully elected, according to the Maryland Association of Boards of Education. Two counties — Caroline and Harford — have decided to shift to “hybrid” models with a combination of elected and appointed members. Four boards are fully appointed.
In Wicomico County, where the board is appointed, County Council members recently voted to put a non-binding refer- method of selection,” he said.” You can have an appointed board or an elected board be secretive and not be responsive to the public. “
For Ulman, the issue is also tied to local finances.
“Sixty-two percent of my operating budget goes to the Board of Education,” Ulman said. “I think people would say, ‘Gee, you ought to have an appointment or two when 62 percent of your budget goes to something that essentially you have no control over whatsoever or very little influence.’ ”