Saturday, February 17, 2007

Capital editorial endorses legislation for an appointed school board

The Capital has endorsed the School Board Nominating Commission bill being pushed by a broad cross section of the County's leadership. I wonder: did the Capital even read the bill, let alone carefully think through the implications of its various clauses? I doubt it very much.

It’s funny, but every once in a while political elites get way out of touch with the public. A famous example was Clinton’s nomination of Zoe Baird to be Attorney General. The news got out that Zoe Baird hadn’t paid the payroll taxes on her baby sitter’s wages. This didn’t bother the elites because none of them paid payroll taxes for their baby sitters either. But it certainly bothered average Americans who expected the U.S. Attorney General, who upholds U.S. laws, to follow them herself. Eventually, the nomination had to be withdrawn.

What’s going on here? The Capital news and editorial staff, like the rest of us, rely heavily on elite cues. If there appears to be broad elite consensus for a particular course of action, that's all the information they need. Such reliance on elite cues may be very efficient in saving the Capital time and money. But such laziness, when broadly distributed among news and political elites, can lead to a culture of the blind leading the blind, with the result that no one is minding the store. That’s what I believe is going on here.

Some vital decisions, such as designing electoral systems, are complex and confusing yet too important for the public (and the press) to blindly trust their elected leaders. This issue is one of them.

For the Capital's endorsement of the appointed school board legislation, click here.
For my critique of this proposal, click here.

Publication: Capital
Date: February 16, 2007
Title: Our say:Delegation should pass Leopold's school board plan

Have you ever been sure that the county's General Assembly delegation would change the way Anne Arundel County school board members are selected? Then you know how Charlie Brown feels every time he tries to kick that football propped up by Lucy.

The anti-hero of the "Peanuts" comic strip always winds up on his back when the ball is yanked away. And anyone who thinks the current selection process is a mess always winds up frustrated when the delegation fails to reach consensus on a new system.

It may be different this year. Perhaps. We'll believe it when the governor signs the legislation.

County Executive John Leopold is pushing a compromise that almost succeeded last year, when it passed the House of Delegates 132-5 but was rejected by the county's Senate delegation, 3-2.

This year the legislation - introduced by state Sen. John Astle - seems to have an even stronger chance, and is backed by the county's chamber of commerce and its teachers association.

The bill would eliminate the glaring flaw in the current procedure: the fact that the governor doesn't have to pick any of the candidates painstakingly vetted by the nominating conventions.

Under the new system, an 11-person nominating commission - its members selected by the governor, the county executive and organizations with a stake in education - would draw up a list of nominees from which the governor would have to make his choice.

The system would allow input from county voters - who would decide whether board members get second terms - without making the board seats fully elective offices forever closed to anyone who doesn't want to campaign. This county has had some excellent school board members who did not have a political bone in their bodies.

The plan, in short, would be a major improvement - although it won't satisfy the staunchest advocates of an elected school board. Two of the county's state senators, Bryan Simonaire and Janet Greenip, are co-sponsoring a bill that would put the issue of an elected board on the 2008 general election ballot.

Elected school boards are the rule nationally, although many of them have some sort of taxing authority. The main powers of government - the ones that should stay in the hands of elected officials - are deciding how to gather money from the taxpayers and how to spend it. Setting up a dependent group of elected officials with no final authority over taxes or budgeting - a group that would always defer on these crucial matters to the county executive and the County Council - would really accomplish little, even if it gives voters the impression that they have gained more control over the schools.

A referendum on an elected board would be preferable to the status quo - but the proposal from Mr. Leopold and Mr. Astle is quicker, more practical and easier to pass. We're hoping that this year the football finally gets kicked.

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