HISTORY OF LWV OF BALTIMORE COUNTY’S POSITION FAVORING ELECTED MEMBERS ON THE BOARD OF EDUCATION
Since the late 1990’s and even earlier, the Education Committee of the League of Women Voters of Baltimore County (LWVBC) has traditionally been among the most active committees. Over the years positions have been reached in several areas of education. LWVBC has positions in many areas of education such as: Safe Schools and Safe Communities, Quality of Education, Early Childhood Education, Role of Principals, Selection of Board of Education Members and, in the case of Charter Schools where no consensus was reached regarding the establishment of Charter Schools, agreement to a set of criteria that should be implemented should a charter school be established in Baltimore County. League procedure was followed in arriving at all of these positions. Research, study, discussion, fact sheets summarizing the research and presenting potential “pros” and “cons” were sent to all members and consensus meetings were held to determine whether a position should be in support of or opposed to the issue and, if adopted, what the details of that position should be.
Sadly, the Education Committee found that having a position and influencing those in power to consider that position was not easy. In many instances State law needed to be changed; thus, only LWVMD could lobby but State League often had no position on the specific topic so, after all the effort of preparing factual, unbiased information about a public problem, following up with action was difficult and discouraging. The issue of education is in a slightly different position. Even though State legislative action would be needed to enact change as to how the Board of Election is selected in any county, the issue only effects that county. This allows for that county’s local LWV to lobby regarding this issue.
Increasing complaints were heard from parents that the Board of Education was not responsive to their concerns and that no effective way existed for parents to directly discuss concerns with the Board of Education. The Board of Education established a policy whereby citizens could come to the Board meeting, put their name into a box, ten names would be randomly selected. Each would be given three minutes to make a statement. No response was given by the Board to any statement and, of course, those not fortunate enough to have their names drawn could not speak. Obviously, this mechanism was not sufficient to allow for public scrutiny and citizen interaction.
Meantime, more and more complaints were heard from citizens that the Board of Education was not being transparent and was paying more attention to politicians and developers than parents and educators. Thus, in 1998 the Education Committee launched a study seeking to find out what the role of the Board of Education legally is and what it could do and what, perhaps, it should do. At the very least how could the Board of Education be encouraged to be more open and transparent and responsive to the concerns of the citizens of Baltimore County?
LWVBC had previously studied the selection of members to the Board of Education. In 1978 League backed an appointed board of education with support for strengthening a school board nominating forum. In 1988 League support for a governor appointed board of education was maintained. Back then most Maryland boards of education were appointed. However, across the nation most boards of education were elected. Would an elected board of education change the dynamics of its interaction with the citizens? Also, in Maryland more counties were electing to change their previously appointed boards to becoming elected boards. At the same time Baltimore County school population was becoming more diverse but the Board of Education remained almost totally Caucasian and the issues of transparency and communication with the public were becoming more apparent.
The LWVBC Education Committee was also increasingly concerned that the education of the students of BCPS was not meeting the needs of ALL students given the expanding diversity of the student population. Overcrowding and inequities in school building facilities raised concerns. Explanations addressing these issues seemed “muddled” at best. In 1998 these issues and the fact that education is a local issue allowing LWVBC to act based on the findings influenced the Committee to undertake the 1998 study of Boards of Education. The goal was to determine how best to create better transparency and more open communication between the Board of Education and the citizens to ensure that ALL students were being educated according to their needs in a fair and equitable manner.
The Education Committee spent almost two years interviewing teachers, parents, administrators, politicians, former school board members, union members, people of color, the president of the Montgomery County Board of Education—the oldest “elected” county board-- along with other presidents of both appointed and elected boards. In 2010 the Education Committee compiled the information and shared it with the membership along with the pros and cons of elected, appointed and hybrid boards of education. Consensus meetings were held and LWVBC adopted a position in favor of a hybrid Board of Education—part- elected, part- appointed. It was felt that having some members of the Board elected would force the Board to be more transparent and communicative. On February 9th, 2011, LWVBC Board of Directors approved a consensus in favor of changing the Baltimore County League of Women Voters’ Board of Education support position from that of an appointed Board to that of a hybrid Board.
Lobbying efforts began with our county’s State legislators to convince them to introduce a bill in support of a hybrid Board of Education. The main issue focused upon was that a hybrid Board would innately be more transparent and communicative because the elected members would have to run for election and, thus, interact with the public. As the Education Committee worked with various legislators, it became apparent that a fully elected Board of Education might be the preference of some legislators. Various bills were introduced but none even got out of committee. Many were for selection of the Board of Education by appointment and others were for a fully elected Board. In neither case could any of the proposed legislation be supported because LWVBC’s position was for a hybrid board of education. Our Education Committee felt strongly that change was needed so it approached the LWVBC Board about holding another consensus, this time allowing for either a hybrid or an elected Board. League procedures were followed and in 2014 support for a fully elected Board of Education was added to the position.
Intensive lobbying efforts were begun. Letters were sent to all legislators representing Baltimore County and the Chairs of relevant committees. Meetings were held with key legislators. Efforts were made to get media coverage. Testimony was delivered to key committees. Efforts to gain support from broad-based segments of the County were made and
outreach was made to other stakeholder groups. The Randallstown NAACP joined the lobbying efforts along with an ad hoc group of parents “Advocates for Baltimore County Public Schools (ABC)” and PTA members from various schools. All were in support of an elected Board of Education.
Legislators representing Baltimore County were lobbied to introduce legislation to that effect. Over the course of several legislative sessions, several different bills were introduced. In a “cliff-hanger” meeting with the Baltimore County delegation, our coalition of advocates agreed to accept a hybrid bill with 7 board of education members being elected, one from each county council district, and 4 being appointed by the Governor from a list submitted to him of candidates who had been vetted by a special Baltimore County School Board Nominating Commission comprised of members appointed by various stakeholder groups, LWVBC being among them. The Commission was to ensure that the Governor’s appointments were qualified candidates and that they represented the diversity of the County. Finally, HB384/SB290 was passed in the 2014 legislative session. In 2016 HB88 was passed that refined some of the provisions of the original bill. HB384/SB290 set the first Board of Education election for November of 2018. Thus, given the terms of the legislation, the first Baltimore County Hybrid Board of Education was not seated until December of 2018.
Chairpersons of the Education Committee over this time period were Aurelia Burt, Whitty Cunninggim, Jessa Goldberg, Becky Rigger, Judy Miller