Last week, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) appointed Michael G. Leahy, an Annapolis lawyer, to the Anne Arundel County Board of Education. Leahy, who lives in Severna Park and served as an adviser to former Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall during the early 1990s, will serve a five-year term in the at-large seat. He replaces Anthony J. Spencer, whose term expired.
The governor also appointed Sarah K. Ferguson to the student representative post. Ferguson will be a senior at Arundel High School in the fall. Student members of the board have full voting rights.
Leahy was the top vote getter in the nominating process that county civic groups use to recommend school board candidates to the governor. His appointment comes as the school system continues to struggle with expanding financial needs and academic challenges, and he told the nominating committee that he would take a hard look at the school system's budget.
"It is unfortunate that our principal proof of commitment to education is the quantitative measure of how much money we are willing to spend, often without specific regard to how we spend it," he told the committee in a written statement. "Who can argue against 'spending more' on education without appearing either stingy or shortsighted? But, as the example of the District of Columbia school system demonstrates (It spends the most money per student in the country), merely spending money does not assure the outcome we desire."
As he prepares to assume his seat on the board, he took a moment this week to answer a few questions from The Washington Post.
Q: Why did you seek appointment to the Board of Education?
A: As a product of the Anne Arundel County school system, and parent of three children who are [or] have been students in our county schools, I feel I have a duty to myself, my family and my community to contribute to the improvement of our schools. Having been blessed with the time and inclination and the understanding of my employer and spouse, I believe this opportunity gives me the best chance to maximize my contribution to our community.
Q: Now that you've been selected, what are your top priorities?
A: When I sought the nomination to the board, my single largest priority was to attempt to give parents and their children someone else they could count on to listen to their concerns and address them with candor and respect. It is my intention to listen to other board members, the superintendent, teachers and parents first, and then establish personal priorities. However, I remain keenly interested in fiscal policy and infrastructure management. As I have said before, "You cannot have school without a schoolhouse."
Q: One of Superintendent Eric Smith's top priorities has been to close the achievement gap that divides African American and Hispanic students from their white and Asian counterparts. How do you think the school system can do this?
A: I agree with Dr. Smith that there should be no discernable "achievement gap" among students attending the same schools. It is my hope that the school system, along with concerned parents, teachers and community leaders will find timely ways for each student to fulfill their individual promise and potential.
Q: Obviously, it worked for you, but some state lawmakers have called for Anne Arundel to elect school board members as they do members of the County Council. What do you think of the county's nominating convention and the differences of having an appointed versus an elected board?
A: I personally favor an elected board with distinct and separate taxing authority from the county government, because I believe such a system is in keeping with our best view of citizen initiative/participa- tory democracy and would foster more accountability in our schools.