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Legislators Split On Pr. George's School Election

By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 29, 2005; Page B01

A bill to reshape plans for a school board election next year in Prince George's County faces steep hurdles in the state Senate despite a unanimous House vote of approval, lawmakers said yesterday.

In Annapolis and county political circles, several scenarios remain in play for what would be the first board election in six years. The House of Delegates staked out its position late Friday with a 125 to 0 vote for a bill to establish a nine-member board elected by districts, using a map to be determined.

But the eight senators who represent the county are weighing whether to elect the board through a countywide vote, as now required by law, or to fashion an alternative with districts and at-large seats.

There is even talk of postponing the election, perhaps extending the term of a Board of Education that was appointed in 2002 by a governor and county executive who are out of office. The current board was created after the state abolished an elected board beset by controversy.

"I've had discussions with the other senators," said Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr. (D-Prince George's). "There is some interest in keeping the stability of the appointed board."

Sen. Gloria G. Lawlah (D-Prince George's), who chairs the county's Senate delegation, said she has heard similar talk.

However, Giannetti and Lawlah said they support holding board elections next year. Giannetti floated the notion of a "hybrid" board, with a majority elected through districts and a minority appointed to at-large seats. Lawlah said she leans toward district elections.

Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George's), a school board elections proponent, predicted "significant opposition" in his chamber to the House bill. He said he favors a board formed through a combination of at-large and district voting, citing the need for local and countywide perspectives.

Prominent among the other five senators who will influence the chamber's deliberations is Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D), whose district spans Calvert and Prince George's counties. A spokeswoman declined to elaborate on Miller's view of board elections.

Sens. Ulysses Currie, Nathaniel Exum, Leo E. Green and Gwendolyn T. Britt, all Democrats from Prince George's, did not return calls for comment.

Even some advocates of the House bill, which was amended to allow a task force to study proposed district boundaries, acknowledge that Senate passage may prove difficult.

"That's an iffy thing over there," said Del. Rosetta C. Parker (D-Prince George's), the bill's chief sponsor, referring to the Senate. "We're praying on it. We can't really count the [votes] over there. They give you one answer today, and tomorrow or three days later, they give you another answer."

County and school officials are closely tracking the Annapolis events. School board chairman Beatrice P. Tignor (Upper Marlboro), one of nine members appointed three years ago by then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) and then-County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D), said in an interview that she would favor extending the appointed board. Andre J. Hornsby, the county schools chief, expressed skepticism about board-election legislation in a public forum in December, saying that appointed members were more likely to have education expertise than some elected members.

Yesterday, Hornsby spokesman John White said the schools chief would not "get into the political fray."

Some observers believe that the legislature will stalemate on the issue this year. If no action is taken, the law calls for countywide voting in November 2006 to fill all nine seats, with five members from geographic districts.

Also yesterday, the House approved a bill to change how school board members are chosen in Anne Arundel County. The governor still would appoint board members, but voters would gain the power to retain or reject new members at the polls. The bill also would replace a 250-member nominating convention with a 13-person commission. It awaits Senate consideration.

Staff writer Daniel de Vise contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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