Lawmakers hoping to change the rules for selecting Anne Arundel school board members have pre-filed a bill for the 2006 legislative session that picks up where a failed 2005 measure left off, with high hopes for success this time.
Anne Arundel, along with about half of Maryland's other counties, has a school board appointed by the governor; the rest have elected boards, as do most school districts around the nation. Elected boards are generally considered more responsive to voters, while appointed boards are thought to be less vulnerable to politics and parochial interests.
For at least 20 years, politicians have sought to institute school board elections in Anne Arundel. Last year's bill, filed by two Republican sponsors from the county, underwent a series of amendments that radically transformed the measure but also built an unprecedented margin of support. It passed almost unanimously in the House and 4-1 in a vote of the county Senate delegation but died before it could be heard by the full Senate at the session's end.
The 2006 bill is a replica of the 2005 bill in its final form, the version that garnered support from powerful House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel). The speaker is among four co-sponsors of the pre-filed bill. They also include Del. John R. Leopold, the Pasadena Republican who helped initiate last year's bill.
"I regard this bill as important because for the first time it will allow the citizens of the county to have a direct voice in the selection process," Leopold said. "This has been an intractable issue for decades."
The bill would place all new adult members of the county school board before the electorate for a retention vote in the first general election after their appointment by the governor, and again for a second retention vote after their reappointment to a second term. The one seat on the eight-person board that is awarded annually to a high school student would not be affected.
At present, school board candidates are chosen by a 250-person nominating convention, a group of civic leaders from around the county, and then forwarded to the governor, who may approve their first or second choice or pick someone else entirely.
The bill would install a new school board nominating commission to recommend nominees to the governor. The 15-person commission would be composed of members chosen by the governor, the county executive, the County Council and several other educational and civic entities. The governor would be bound to select a board member from a list of at least two candidates approved by the nominating group.
The legislation is more complicated than that proposed last year by Leopold and Del. Tony McConkey, a Severna Park Republican, who wished to turn the entire process over to voters.
McConkey failed to draw support from Anne Arundel Democrats, most notably Busch, who said he feared the electoral process would yield an all-white board. Majority support in the county delegation was necessary to move the measure forward.