Harry Basehart: Nominating Commission is the right solution for school board

Thanks to state Sen. Jim Mathias and Delegate Sheree Sample-Hughes, the citizens of Wicomico County have time for an in-depth examination of whether an elected school board is desirable for Wicomico County. Public hearings begin in September.

In case you forgot about this issue over the summer, the County Executive and County Council want to replace the current process of Maryland’s governor appointing school board members with a hybrid procedure: five members elected by county voters and two appointed by the Wicomico County Executive, with the advice and consent of the council.

Many local political activists and observers are predicting easy voter approval of this change once approved by the Maryland General Assembly in 2016.

Perhaps, but I’m not so sure.

What I know is that the 2015 bill proposed by the county had serious flaws that must be corrected before a new bill is introduced in January.

The hearings can go a long way to ensure that the new legislation is the best possible. If approved by the General Assembly and then approved by the voters in a referendum, we’ll have the new procedures for the foreseeable future. Advocates of change need to get it right.

Election of five members is clear enough, but citizens and stakeholders should be involved in the process of selecting appointed members. This can be accomplished by adding a School Board Nominating Commission, much like the one in Baltimore County.

Purpose of the commission will be to recommend qualified candidates for appointment to the Board of Education, and recommend candidates to fill vacancies on the board should they occur. Two candidates will be recommended for each position.

Also, the commission will recommend two candidates for the student position on the board.  (The 2015 proposal was vague, to say the least, on the appointment process for the student member.)

The commission will be composed of 10 members. One at-large member appointed by the County Executive and one at-large member appointed by the County Council. One member will be appointed by each of the following organizations: NAACP Wicomico County Branch, Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce, Seidel School of Education and Professional Studies at Salisbury University, Wicomico County Council of PTAs, Wicomico County Education Association, Wicomico Public Libraries, Wor-Wic Community College, and one 11th or 12th grade student in Wicomico County Public Schools selected in alternating years by SGA of one of the four high schools.

To the extent practicable, the Commission will reflect the gender, ethnic, and racial makeup of the County.

Term of office for commission members will be four years, except for the student representative who will serve one year. The Commission will select its chair from among its members and will hold at least one public hearing on the selection of nominees before making its recommendations.

The County Executive, with advice and consent of the Council, will select the appointed members (or fill vacancies) from the names provided by the Commission. If the names submitted are unacceptable they will be returned to the Commission and the Commission will submit the names of additional qualified individuals.

A School Board Nominating Commission will ensure transparency and citizen involvement in the selection of appointed members of the Board of Education.

Harry Basehart is a retired Political Science professor at Salisbury University and a member of the Wicomico County Democratic Central Committee.

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