Voters clear in their desire to elect school board

Wicomico County residents made it clear they want a fully elected Board of Education, with nearly 51 percent of the 36,451 voters selecting Option 2 on Tuesday’s ballot.

Option 2 called for “five members elected by district and two members elected at large.” The option garnered 18,514 votes.

The other two possibilities, for a fully appointed board of education, or hybrid version, each received about 25 percent of county residents’ votes.

Retaining the current system of the governor appointing school board members was slightly more popular, with 9,170 votes. Creating a hybrid system received 8,767 votes.

For years, those whose political leanings point conservative — and who have publicly questioned spending decisions on the part of the Wicomico County Board of Education — have wanted to see a popularly elected school board.

Their effort at long last came to fruition, with the referendum question on the 2016 ballot.
Found on the ballot as Question A, voters were asked their preference: Should the county continue with an appointed board, implement a totally elected one, or have a format that allows somewhat of a mixture of the two?

To be exact, this is the language that those who have participated in early voting, and the rest who voted Tuesday, were asked to weigh:

“The members of the Wicomico County Board of Education are currently appointed by the governor. The referendum presents three options for how the seven members of the board should be chosen:

Option 1 – Retain the current appointed board system in which the governor appoints the members of the board;
Option 2 – Change to an elected board, with five members elected by voters within the voters’ council district and two at-large member elected by all voters in Wicomico County;
Option 3 – Change to a combination of members who are elected and who are appointed, with five members elected by voters within the voters’ council district and two members appointed by the Wicomico County Council from a list of nominees proposed by a school board nominating commission.
Please indicate which of the three methods for selecting members of the Wicomico County Board of Education you prefer.”

In Maryland election history, it has been extremely rare that voters would be asked to select from three options in a referendum.

Traditionally, referendums are “for” or “against” exercises. In this election, in regard to the school board, voters will have to raise the complexity of their thinking and choose from among options with both definite and subtle distinctions.

The elections will be nonpartisan and would be conducted in gubernatorial election years.
Each candidate 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.

Even though there will be no attached party affiliations, if more than two candidates run in any district or for each at-large position, all shall be placed on the primary election ballot.

The two who receive the most votes shall move on to the general election.

Terms would be reduced from the current five years to four-year terms of office, with members taking their seats on the first Monday in December after the election.

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.

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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