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Officials Debate How to Elect School Board

2 Bills Offer Plan For Switch From Appointed Panel

By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 10, 2005; Page PG03

The county's appointed school board is a year away from ending its four-year run, but lawmakers, parents and others are already debating how the new board should be selected.

Two bills are stirring debate in Annapolis over how the school board, which is scheduled to return to elected status next year, should be designed.

Members of the appointed school board in 2002. From left are Robert O. Duncan, Beatrice P. Tignor, Howard W. Stone, Jose Morales, Charlene M. Dukes and John R. (Jack) Bailey. Not shown are Abby L.W. Crowley, Judy Mickens-Murray and Dean Sirjue. An election for a new board is scheduled for next year. (Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)

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The school board was appointed in June 2002 by Gov. Parris N. Glendening and County Executive Wayne K. Curry, both Democrats, to replace an elected panel whose members misspent public funds and battled publicly with its superintendent, Iris T. Metts.

In crafting the legislation that led to the appointed board, lawmakers stipulated that the seats would return to elected status in 2006. The legislation also said the school system would be divided into five districts. Five of the nine board members would live in one of those districts, but all nine of the representatives would be elected at large, said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George's), an architect of the legislation.

Now lawmakers and residents are debating whether the five-district, at-large configuration is the best setup.

When the school board was appointed, several activists and other residents complained that none of the members lived in a working-class neighborhood inside the Capital Beltway.

Del. Rosetta C. Parker (D-Hyattsville) has introduced a bill to elect the board from nine single-member districts that would be identical to the nine County Council districts. The elected board that was replaced in 2002 also had nine members chosen from single-member districts.

"Each district has a representative," Parker said. "I think it's best because when you have everybody representing everybody, they're really not representing anybody."

Del. Doyle L. Niemann (D-Mt. Rainier), a former school board member, has introduced what he calls a compromise bill that would have six members elected from districts and three elected at large.

Niemann said the existing law would set up an ineffective board. Having members who are voted on at large would not guarantee that the members would be accountable to the residents in their communities.

"It was a crumb thrown to those who want to have districts, but there's really no reason for [those] who live in the district to pay attention to their district," he said.

But some community activists said Niemann's bill falls short.

Citizens for an Elected School Board, a group of county residents who lobbied against the appointed board nearly three years ago, has backed Parker's bill.

"There's no one [on the appointed board] representing the Inner Beltway communities, so the voice of half of the school system is not represented in any of the discussions," said Janis Hagey, an organizer of the group.

The County Council has also weighed in but has not endorsed a bill.

Last month, the council's Health, Education and Human Services Committee adopted a set of principles on the board's makeup. The council would like the board members to be elected from single-member districts that would be in line with the council districts, said council member Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Bowie). The council also wants the members to have staggered terms, he said.

The discussion will continue over the next several months if Del. Michael L. Vaughn (D-Bowie) and Sen. Nathaniel Exum (D-Prince George's) have anything to do with it. They have sponsored a bill that would set up a task force to determine the school board's composition.

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