An effort is underway to change the process Maryland uses to select the head of the state school system, a move that would increase the state Senate’s role and dilute the opinion of the state Board of Education, which is appointed by the governor.
A Senate committee on Wednesday heard testimony on a bill that would require the Senate to confirm the state Superintendent of Schools. The position has been filled by an interim superintendent since Lillian Lowery, the former superintendent resigned in September.
“It’s just a check and balance,” said Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), the lead sponsor in the Senate. House Majority Leader Anne Kaiser (D-Montgomery) has cross-filed the bill in the House.
Pinsky said inserting the Senate into the appointment process makes sense, given the “trickle down” effect the state superintendent has on local school policy. He said the measure would put Maryland in line with at least 14 other states, including New Jersey, Virginia and Pennsylvania, where the state legislature has a say in who is given the state’s top education job.
Guffrie M. Smith Jr., the president of the Maryland State Board of Education, said Senate’s involvement would muddy the process, arguing that it would make the process more political and would reduce the number of candidates interested in the position.
“While the Board believes the senators share the goal of attracting highly qualified candidates, requiring Senate confirmation for this position will unintentionally inhibit the state’s ability to attract and recruit outstanding and well-qualified individuals to the state superintendency, due to the uncertainty introduced into the governance process, the unrealistic timetable, and the inherent risks of the confirmation process,” Smith wrote in a letter to Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore), chairwoman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.
State education officials said they are working with a recruiter to do a nationwide search for Lowery’s replacement. They expect to have finalists to choose from in the next two to three months. James R. Smith, who has been serving as an interim superintendent, was recently selected to head the Montgomery County school system.
“We want the best possible person in the job,” said Matt Clark, a spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan (R). He said if a new process prohibits potential candidates from considering the job “the people of Maryland are being done a disservice.”
Hogan has pushed some education policies that have not been received well by the Democratic-controlled legislature, including a measure last year to give charter schools greater authority and a proposal this year to provide tax credits to businesses that donate to schools. The tax credit is expected to help non-public schools more than public schools.
Hogan, who has nominated five new members to the board since his election, will appoint several more in the next year. Some legislators are quietly worried that some of Hogan’s policies could be enacted by the superintendent and school board rather than through the General Assembly.