What might a school board referendum look like?

Voter feedback has been an important consideration in the effort to enact an elected school board in Wicomico County. A lack of public input was a stumbling block when the idea was presented to the General Assembly in Annapolis this year.

County officials, therefore, want a public referendum on the issue.

Before the question goes to the voters, of course, the County Council has to endorse a framework that can be given to General Assembly. If the lawmakers in Annapolis sign off, then the voters will have a final say in a November 2016 referendum.

An element of the request to the General Assembly would be the referendum provision. Lawmakers would know the public will ultimately be heard at the polls on the issue, which could be especially comforting to lawmakers who are making a decision that affects someone else’s community.

Initial language outlining the elected-board proposal suggests the question will be printed on the ballot in this form:

–The act’s title.

–Underneath the title, on separate lines, a square or box opposite the words “for an elected/appointed Board of Education.”

–A corresponding box “against an elected/appointed Board of Education.”

To be determined is whether the referendum would be a straw poll or a binding referendum.

Wicomico County’s last high-profile referendum was the 2002 vote imposing a revenue cap on county property taxes. That vote, however, concerned a change to the County Charter; the school board is a state-affiliated entity, and not a county body.

One debate has centered on which would be more appropriate, a referendum or straw vote. Referendums are binding — they are the voters saying yes/no on what a legislative body. If they vote yes, it goes into effect.

A straw poll, meanwhile, is nonbinding and would be merely advisory. A straw poll would simply give the sense of the voters as to what they want.

If the General Assembly passes legislation that establishes an elected school board that is dependent on a positive vote from the voters of Wicomico County, a referendum is certain.

If that were to occur in fall 2016, presumably an elected school board could go into effect for the 2018 election.

If a hybrid board is the determination, that could affect the implementation time.

Some have questioned the public’s true desire for an elected board and wondered aloud why individual citizens haven’t petitioned for an elected school board. That is not legally possible. The only way for Wicomico residents to vote on this issue is for our legislators to pass a bill (and for the governor to sign that bill) that allows this.

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

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