The Montgomery County school board no longer would be able to vote for its officers by secret ballot if a bill now being considered by a General Assembly committee is approved.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Howard A. Denis (R-Bethesda), would require the members of all county school boards in the state to publicly record their votes in elections of board officers. Denis was unable to say how many boards, in addition to Montgomery's, would be affected by the bill.
In Montgomery County, school board guidelines enable the board to vote secretly for officers. But during the past two officer elections, the board has moved to suspend its rules, and has publicly announced each member's vote.
At the same time, the board has refused to change its secret balloting rule. Board members declined to take a stand on Denis' bill when it was presented to them for endorsement, arguing that any policy change should take place at the board level and not in the legislature. But according to member Blair Ewing, the board has brushed aside his recommendations for an open balloting policy.
Marian Greenblatt, who in 1979 was the last president of the board to be elected in a secret ballot, said, "In effect, we have already opened board elections , but I can imagine under other circumstances another board might not want to deal with personalities up front. But I don't think it should be legislated. I think that's a decision that should be made on the local level by the individual boards."
If approved, the bill would make Montgomery County the last school district in the Washington area to implement a policy of open elections.
"I'm not trying to embarrass anyone, but I believe in the principle of open meetings," Denis said. "These people are public officials . . . and people have a right to know who elected officials are voting for in matters of public importance.
"We at the legislative level and council level have our votes publicly recorded, so I think it's only right that the school board should also have its votes recorded," he added.
Denis denied that his measure was prompted by recent criticism surrounding the school board's controversial closing of 27 schools. Some opponents of the closings have accused the board of secretly agreeing to dismantle the school system's integration policy and have vowed to make the school board more accountable for its actions in this year's elections.
Board member Ewing, who has moved for a suspension of the secret balloting rules during the past two years, said he was "delighted" with the bill.
"This is a secret bunch who like to do things in a way that allows as little public accountability as possible," Ewing said. Ewing added that he planned to propose a similar change in the board's election rule at next Monday's meeting.
Denis said he expects the bill to pass easily.