Wicomico school board referendum measure cruising toward passage

 

The school board referendum bill, unanimously approved by the Senate earlier this month and set to go before the House March 15, has been well received and is expected to pass.

“I’m, hoping for a favorable report,” Delegate Carl Anderton said this week.

Senate Bill 145-Wicomico County Board of Education-Election and Appointment of Members would allow Wicomico County voters to decide by referendum vote if they want Board of Education members  to continue being appointed by the governor, or to change it.

They could decide to elect all seven school board members, or to have a hybrid panel, with five elected by voting districts and two appointed by non-partisan groups.

There’s a list of 14 groups that could be involved, Anderton said.

If voters choose an elected school board, the first election would be in 2018.

“I’ve been meeting with the education sub-committee chair and it seems like we have everything ready to go,” Anderton told the Salisbury Independent.

“Last year it was premature. There wasn’t enough public input.  (Now, following several public hearings) I feel like the County Council has set us up for success. I think we’re in a better positon to get this on the ballot for November,” Anderton said.

Although he hasn’t decided which option he favors, the delegate said he’s eager to give the public the opportunity to decide. Some have asked him why a referendum is necessary and he replied it’s his responsibility to provide an option for constituents, he said.

“The county wrote the bill. We are a vessel for the bill but we stayed out of the construction of the bill. If there are any amendments or changes, we will continue to work closely with the county,” Anderton said.

When the bill proposal was written late last year, it stated any eligible voter, except as provided by state law, will be qualified to serve on the board. Candidates would have to live in the district he or she represents. If he stopped living there, or was no longer an eligible voter, he would have to forfeit the seat.

If more than two 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 there were vacancies, the County Council would fill them, choosing from names provided by a 14-member nominating commission composed of members of 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 states.

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

A student member would be appointed and serve one term, but not be allowed to vote. A nominating commission would suggest two names of students, from those provided by student governments at the high schools.

If the bill passes, the current school board president, Don Fitzgerald, said he will withdraw, and not campaign. “I think we have enough politics and that doesn’t belong in the board of education,” he said.

Agreeing, Vice President Kim Hudson said she wouldn’t campaign, either, and would worry that not enough qualified candidates would seek office.

Wicomico County Council President John Cannon said it would be unfortunate if exemplary members like Fitzgerald and Hudson stopped serving.

“The board members we have do an excellent job. I don’t see the election process as having the same difficulty as they might envision,” Cannon said.

He and County Council members worked hard to get the bill this far and he’s glad it’s continuing to move forward, he said.

As community discussion about the school board continues, Dr. Eddie Boyd, former school board member, will speak at the March 24 meeting of the Wicomico Chapter 7028 of the NAACP.

He’ll present Appointed Board of Education and Why We Support It.

The 7 p.m. meeting, at the Chipman Cultural Center, is open to the public.

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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