In 2018, the Wicomico County Board of Education will move to a completely elected panel, causing some to fear an unprecedented board of completely inexperienced members.
“I am concerned because everybody on there could be new,” said Don Fitzgerald, school board president.
But County Councilman Marc Kilmer, who helped draft the legislation that was sent to state leaders and placed on the ballot as a referendum last week, said that possibility is nothing new.
“It’s a risk we run every election with the Wicomico County Council. It’s the risk you run with the U.S. House of Representatives. There is always that risk when everyone is up for election at the same time, but I don’t know that that’s going to happen. It hasn’t happened in recent memory,” Kilmer said.
“I trust the voters of Wicomico County will make wise choices for the school board in 2018. It is very common to elect school board members around the country. I have faith voters and members will make it succeed,” Kilmer said.
Fitzgerald – who was first appointed by the governor in 2009, and reappointed to a second five-year term that began in July 2014 – was never in favor of a fully elected board. He said voters might not have stopped to think seven “brand new people” could constitute the board.
There is a great deal to learn, as was evident in a recent, long training session about the budget, so new members benefit from those who have experience, he said.
“But the people have spoken. I’ve said all along I’m not a politician. I’m here for one reason, and that’s the children,” he told the Salisbury Independent.
Fitzgerald’s term was set to end in 2019, but now that voters chose an elected board, it will conclude in November 2018.
He can run for election then, since there will be no term limits, but said he will soon be 70 and hasn’t decided.
Newly elected members will be sworn in on Dec. 2, 2018, and serve four-year terms that coincide with the County Council’s terms. Two of the seven candidates will run at large and the other five will represent their home districts.
Currently, the other school board members are Joseph R. Ollinger, appointed in June 2015 to complete a term that will expire in 2018; Dr. Tyrone A. Chase, appointed in July 2007 and reappointed in August 2012; N. Eugene “Gene” Malone Jr., appointed in 2016; John Palmer, appointed in June 2015 to complete a term expiring at the end of June 2015 and appointed to a five-year term through 2020; Maria Waller, appointed in June 2016 to a term that expires in December 2018; and Ronald O. Willey, appointed in July 2007 and reappointed in August 2012.
Seats held by Willey and Chase will expire before the first school board election.
Kilmer said it is his understanding that a 14-member School Board Nominating Commission will be assembled to make temporary appointments. That commission will also fill any future vacancies.
“These things should not be problem. We aren’t the first county to transition to an all-elected school board, so there is precedent,” Kilmer told the Salisbury Independent.
On Election Day last week, nearly 51 percent of Wicomico’s 36,451 voters selected Option 2 on the ballot, switching to an elected school board.
The other options called for continuing to have the governor appoint members, or forming a hybrid board, with some elected and some appointed. Each option received about 25 percent of the vote.
Dr. Donna Hanlin, superintendent of Wicomico schools, told the Salisbury Independent the most important objective for school board members “is that they are motivated to serve based upon their desire to make decisions that are in the best interest of students.”
“That’s how members of the Wicomico County Board of Education serve now, and how we’d anticipate them serving in the future.
“We expect the transition to go very smoothly … Just as we do now, we will work closely with new board members to ensure they have support in building the background knowledge they will need to serve as part of the Board of Education,” she said.
Reach Susan Canfora at firstname.lastname@example.org.