Legislative Session 2013: Baltimore County School Boards

Last legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly came close to passing legislation to establish a partially elected school board for Baltimore County. I’m support this measure and hope they pick this issue up again in the 2013 legislative session. Here’s my piece on the topic from earlier this year:

My friends on the right in Maryland like to lament about the lack of local accountability for many of the school boards in Maryland. In Baltimore County specifically, our school board is appointed – by the Governor, in its entirety. This is unacceptable – as there really is no local accountability. That said, I do not support a fully elected school board. Why? I lived through them.

I grew up in upstate New York. In our area, local school boards are a) hyper local and b) directly elected in non-partisan races. What this led to in the past were a few issues. First, a number of locals who happened to be well known with little to no qualifications or ability get elected. These people in New York have the power to levy school taxes and completely define the local school budget. They also have the power to appoint school administrators. This led to some awful budgets, poor execution, and people elected who focused on raising the budget in their pet areas (ex. very specific school sports programs)

The second problem can be summed up in two words: teacher’s unions. In some cases, I have seen teacher’s unions pushing puppet candidates just to help themselves. I’ve seen spouses of teachers, including in one local election a former teacher who was fired having her husband run for school board. He lost, thankfully, but barely. Teacher’s unions will become active in these types of elections and will push their own puppet candidates. The question is will local resident’s recognize a puppet versus a serious contender for the post.

Thirdly, politics are driven into the school board. Whether intentional or not, making school board members elected by definition will make the board more political. Candidates will have a platform, plan for what they want to do – will be accountable to the voters. This is a good thing, but also a double edged sword. A focus on reelection by school board members may lead to them making decisions politically based on what will give them more votes as opposed to what is in the best interest of the entire school board.

On the other hand, being elected means they are beholden to the people and will be more focused on local needs. This is good. This is why I support the proposal for a partially elected school board as discussed during the legislative session. A number of members beholden to the people and a number of members appointed based on qualifications picked by the Governor or local government (the latter I would prefer).