Elected school board measure faring well in legislature

A bill to approve a county referendum, so voters can decide how school board members will be chosen, is expected to come out of committee quickly, with no opposition.

“Everybody seemed to be very happy. It ought to come flying out of committee soon,” said state Sen. Jim Mathias, who, at the Jan. 27 hearing in Annapolis, spoke in favor of Senate Bill 145 – Wicomico County Board of Education – Election and Appointment of Members, in the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee.

“It went exceedingly well. I gave my greetings to the chairman and my colleagues and I introduced the Senate bill. I said, ‘This is the Board of Education Bill, also known as Peace in the Valley,’” he joked.

He explained there was a need for public hearings and that they were  held last year.

Also there supporting the bill were said state Sen. Addie Eckardt, Wicomico County Council President John Cannon and Councilman Ernie Davis. County Executive Bob Culver was there but did not speak.

If the referendum is approved, voters will decide if the board of education will be a seven-member hybrid board, consisting of five elected members, with one from each of the five council districts, and two members appointed, or a seven-member elected board.

In December, the Wicomico County Council sent a proposal to the legislative delegation stating, “any eligible voter, except as provided by state law, shall be qualified to serve as a board of education member.”

Board of education members would be required to live in the district he or she represents. If he stopped living in that district, or was no longer an eligible voter, he would be required to forfeit the seat.

If more than two candidates ran for an at-large position, their names would be on a primary election ballot and the two who received the most votes would move on to the general election.

“In appointing members to the board of education, the County Council shall ensure, to the extent practicable, that the board reflects the gender, ethnic, and racial makeup of the county,” the proposal states.

If vacancies occurred, the County Council would fill them from names provided by a 14-member nominating commission. That commission would be composed of members from the Wicomico County branch of the NAACP, education association, chamber of commerce offices, Educational Support Professionals Association and Council of PTAs.

“The purpose of the commission will be to recommend two qualified candidates for each of the two appointed positions on the Board of Education. The commission also will recommend two candidates to fill any vacancy that occurs,” the proposal stated.

There would also be a parent of a child with special needs on the commission. All members would serve four years and reflect the gender, ethnic and racial makeup of the county.

County Council members would appoint a student member, who would serve one term, but not be eligible to vote.

A nominating commission would suggest two names of students, from those provided by the student government associations of the high schools.

Delegate Sheree Sample-Hughes, at a breakfast for legislators, hosted by the county  in mid-December, asked about the process of choosing the student representative. County Councilman Marc Kilmer explained each high school would nominate someone, then the successful student would go before the nominating commission before being confirmed by County Council.

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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