David L. Cahn is co-chair of Citizens for an Elected Board. Tommi Makila is a founding member of the Alliance for Nonpartisan School Board Elections.
Under Maryland law, county school board elections must be nonpartisan. Unfortunately, that has been the case in name only in Prince George’s County. For decades, partisan officials have endorsed candidates for the county’s Board of Education and added them to their slates and partisan sample ballots. In addition to tying the candidates to political parties, these endorsements have provided the establishment-favored candidates with a significant financial advantage that is very difficult for their truly nonpartisan opponents to overcome.
Over the past several years, the school board has become increasingly politicized. In 2013, the Maryland legislature reorganized the school system’s governing structure through House Bill 1107. This law added four partisan appointees to the previously all-elected, nonpartisan school board and allowed the partisan county executive to appoint the board chair, vice chair and superintendent (now called the chief executive). The law also weakened the board and transferred many of its powers to the chief executive, putting the administration of our schools and decisions about school closings in the hands of a political appointee.
Partisan meddling in our school board elections has intensified this year. For example, Cheryl Landis of the Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee is running for the District 5 school board seat. In the April primary, she was promoted heavily — and successfully — by numerous partisan elected officials. This meddling is likely to continue in the general-election campaign. The candidate has even used her own social media page to present herself as a Democratic candidate for school board, posting a partisan endorsement under the banner “Democrats 2016.”
This meddling must stop!
To ensure that our schools do not become embroiled in party politics (including intraparty politics), we are calling on the Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee and all partisan elected officials to stop endorsing candidates in nonpartisan school board elections and to stop publicizing the school board endorsements they have already made.
We call upon all school board candidates to repudiate any partisan endorsements they have received; ask to be removed from partisan slates, sample ballots, posters and social media; and ensure the public that, if they are elected, they will govern our school system without regard to party politics.
We also call for repeal of the 2013 legislation that stripped much of the power from our elected school board representatives and watered down our voting rights. Our schools need to be led by individuals who are responsible to the voters, not to the political establishment.