School board format options confront county leaders

County leaders are looking at three options — each containing some wide variances — when establishing a framework for the Wicomico Board of Education.

Appointed Board

The current school board is an appointed body, ultimately selected by whoever happens to occupy the Maryland governor’s seat.

Candidates traditionally apply and are vetted by the local party Central Committees, but contenders can apply directly to the governor. Nominees are also interviewed by the governor or gubernatorial staff members. The seven board seats are essentially slotted to a partisan breakdown; the current school board contains four Republican members, and three Democrats.

The appointed members serve five-year terms, which are staggered to preserve continuity.

All Elected Board

County leaders are considering various structures to the elected-board format.

A leading option is a seven-member all-elected board that mimics the current format for electing County Council members.

Five members would be elected from the council’s existing geographical districts; two members would be elected at large from the entire county.

One variation would be to have five district-only seats, and not have the at-large seats. Concerns about always having a quorum — given the smaller body — have been raised regarding that idea.

Hybrid Board

Concerns about the school board membership containing diversity to match the county has prompted discussion of a hybrid board. One option would be to have five members elected from districts and two appointed by the governor.

A second option — one that would keep the appointment decision more local — would be to have five elected positions and two positions appointed by the County Executive.

The appointments would be made with the advice and consent from the County Council, and the executive would be expected to seek advice from county residents at large.

Under this scenario, the executive would be expected to ensure — to the extent possible — that the total board composition reflects the county’s gender, ethnic and racial diversity. The county’s minority population is about 30 percent, but 51 percent of the county’s public school students are classified as minorities.

In answer to some concerns that county executive involvement might unduly politicize the appointments, a school board Nominating Commission is considered an option.

Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties have such commissions, which can be appointed through the coordination of the executive and legislative branches.

Wicomico, Anne Arundel and Baltimore are the only remaining counties in Maryland without elected school boards, but the two western shore counties — through the commissions — have some measure of local input. Anne Arundel also holds retention elections for those appointed.

The governor retains appointment power in these two counties, but he is generally bound to choose from the list of nominees submitted.

Other factors to be determined

County leaders will need input on other matters concerning the school board.

  • Vacancies: There is no clear choice on how to handle vacancies: When unplanned vacancies arise, should the positions be filled by the governor, the County Executive or should a special election be held?
  • Terms: One proposal is to make school board terms four years (the current is five). The terms would be staggered; members would be limited to two consecutive terms.
  • Student membership: Similar to the current system, a student member would also be appointed. The student would be in the 11th or 12th grade in the school system, be a nonvoting member, serve one year, and advise the county board on the thoughts and feelings of the students.
  • Salaries: Currently, school board members are paid $3,700 annually (the board president is paid $4,000). County leaders have wondered aloud if the pay should be higher, so input on that might also be solicited.
  • Qualifications: Candidates would have to be a resident of Wicomico County for one year prior to the election, as well as a registered voter of the county.

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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