Wicomico formally seeks referendum on elected board

After months of discussion and community input concerning an elected or appointed school board, the County Council on Tuesday agreed on the draft of a letter that will go to state lawmakers.

That letter will be formally written, with the expertise of Councilman Marc Kilmer, then sent to Annapolis with the hope that the General Assembly, during the 2016 legislative session, passes a bill allowing the county to have a referendum vote next November.

In that referendum, county residents will decide if they want the seven members of the state-governed school board to all be elected, to all be appointed as has historically been the case, or to be a hybrid process.

If the last option is selected, two school board members would be appointed by the County Council and five elected.

Kilmer told the Salisbury Independent Tuesday that County Executive Bob Culver does not want to make the appointments, so council members would.

“All seven council members agreed to ask the legislative delegation to introduce a bill to give voters in Wicomico County these three options,” Kilmer said.

Although each Council member probably has a personal preference, Kilmer said the council, as a unit, takes the stand that it is best for voters to decide.

“There has been a movement in Wicomico County the last four or five years to move to an elected school board. We have to talk to the delegation because we want to be sure everybody is happy with the way this is  presented,” Kilmer said.

He said he supports a fully elected school board, he said, “but it’s not important what I think.”

“It’s important what the people of Wicomico County think. My role is to help get this on the ballot,” he said.

Council Vice President Matt Holloway agreed. “The whole purpose of this was to let the people decide,” he said, adding he’s eager to get the matter “off the table,” after years of discussion.

“We’re very fortunate to have Marc Kilmer on the Council with us. He is very familiar with bill drafting. He has done a very nice job of assembling the scattered thoughts of the council,” Holloway said.

The matter has lingered, he said, “because of a learning curve.”

“It took awhile for us to realize what the state was looking for, a more public process. We have done that by holding four public forums for input and we finally have the correct people on the council and in the delegation.

“There has been quite a push of people who are requiring that they have the choice, that it goes up to referendum, so they can decide if they want an elected or an appointed school board,” Holloway said.

Throughout the country, more than 90 percent of school boards are elected, he said.

The hybrid model of selection, it is argued, would ensure proper diversity representation on the school board. The five elected seats would follow the election districting plan used to elect the County Council, and that offers only one majority-minority district.

About half of the county’s approximately 14,500 public school students are classified as minorities.

Mary Ashanti, president of the NAACP Wicomico branch, has said she and other key stakeholders in the debate agree that only two referendum options would be sufficient.

“Voters could choose all elected or five elected and two appointed,” she said. “If I voted for one, I couldn’t vote for the other, and that would be acceptable.”

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