Last-ditch efforts by Prince George's County's two black delegates to increase the number of black school board members failed last week. County delegates voted 22-2 to kill a bill that would have matched school board districts with councilmanic districts. The two black delegates, Nathaniel Exum and Sylvania W. Woods, who sponsored the bill with fellow 25th District Del. Francis J. Santangelo, were the only supporters.
"It failed miserably," Woods said this week, and the result was "to limit to one, maybe two, black school board members over the course of maybe eight years." Woods said that matching school board districts with councilmanic districts would have raised the number of blacks on the school board from one to three because the majority of voters are black in three of the council districts.
Woods and Sen. Tommie Broadwater (D-Glenarden), the county's only black senator, unsuccessfully opposed a county school board redistricting plan approved by the legislature last April, saying it resulted in under-representation of blacks.
Although 37 percent of county residents are black and more than half the county's school children are black, only one of the school board's nine members--Bonnie F. Johns--is black. Johns lives in the 25th District.
Woods said he argued that the county's confusing array of overlapping electoral districts--which are different for school board members, council members and legislators--made little sense.
While some legislators want to preserve the careers of current school board members by leaving their districts intact, Woods said, others are unhappy with the way councilmanic districts are currently drawn and did not want to compound the problem by drawing school board districts the same way.
In other action, the county's delegation has changed its mind on a bill it approved three weeks ago. One week after voting to support a bill that would have allowed the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission to issue water bonds without legislative authority, the delegation reconsidered and voted overwhelmingly to kill the measure.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Dorman (D-Beltsville), would have allowed the commission to issue sewer bonds worth up to 14 percent of its assets--which total more than $1 billion--without having to ask the General Assembly to pass a bill. WSSC officials said they would be able to take advantage of ever-fluctuating bond markets if they did not have to get legislation passed.
Legislators relinquished their authority over similar bonds for sewer lines several years ago, and traditionally have passed requests to issue water bonds. But frequently they have made small reductions in the size of the bonds.
Del. Frank B. Pesci Sr. (D-New Carrollton), chairman of the delegation's Committee on Bi-county Affairs, expressed concern that the bill would mean higher bond issues, the cost of which eventually would filter down to consumers. He voted against the bill on the first vote.
"I don't know whether people weren't paying attention (the first time) or they felt that a bill sponsored by Senator Dorman must be a good bill or that we did this years ago with sewer bonds," Pesci said.