Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Commentary advocating SB 28 by State Senator Brian Simona

Guest column: Wanted: A voice, not a commission, The Maryland Gazette, February 28, 2007, State Senator Brian Simonaire, p. A10

There is a raging debate being discussed in Annapolis and your voice is urgently needed.

Most people agree that the current school board selection process has major problems. As a result, two bills have been filed in the General Assembly attempting to remedy the situation.

One bill asserts that our citizens deserve a direct voice in government through an elected school board; whereas, the other bill appoints an elite commission to replace the direct voice of the people.

These are completely different approaches: One empowers the people and the other empowers a select few.

I believe in creating legislation that gives citizens a greater say in their local government; therefore, I have sponsored Senate Bill 28 that would create an elected school board with the full voice and approval of the people.

If SB 28 were signed into law this year, the bill would require the voters to approve or reject the elected school board proposal during the next election. Upon receiving a favorable majority vote, a staggered election process as defined by SB 28 would follow to ensure a smooth transition.

The elected school board would consist of eight members, one representative elected from each of the seven councilmanic districts and one student representative.

Clearly the trend is moving towards elected school boards, because people want a voice in the process and the system is working.

Of all the school boards in America, more than 90 percent are elected boards. Seventy-five percent of Maryland's counties are elected. Considering that many more counties are proposing elected boards this year, Anne Arundel County is behind the times in this area and out of touch with its citizens.

SB 28 has overwhelming, growing and broad support from individuals and organizations within Anne Arundel County, such as, the teachers association, the PTA with over 15,000 members, both the chairman and vice chairman of our County Council, the League of Women voters and even members of the appointed school board.

As the Anne Arundel County delegation hears testimony regarding these bills, they must answer one fundamental question: "Do the people of Anne Arundel County deserve a direct voice in the educational process?"

The elected school board bill emphatically shouts, "Yes, restore the voice of the people!"

Conversely, an appointed commission whispers, "No, the average citizen is better served by the voice of a select few."

In addition to restoring the direct voice of the people, SB 28 would also provide local accountability to those who wish to serve the educational needs of our community members.

With little or no local accountability, board members have the ability to propose dramatic increases or decreases in the educational budget. They can also call for an adjustment in tax revenues as it relates to their proposed budget request.

With our school board members having such influence over our local educational system, it is imperative that the citizens have the corresponding ability to hold them accountable for their actions.

Lastly, SB 28 is the only proposal that guarantees equal representation within the county. And this is extremely important considering that we currently have several councilmanic districts with zero representation on our school board.

I am convinced an elected school board would better serve the needs of the community, because the people have a direct voice in the process, the school board members are held locally accountable and there is equal representation within our county.

There will always be those who find reasons not to change, or say that we can not accomplish certain goals. However, there is a new playing field in the Anne Arundel county delegation with nearly 50 percent turnover from the last election. We have a tremendous opportunity to end the deadlock of the last 20 years.

I believe your voice is urgently needed in local government and that is why I sponsored SB 28. Now it is up to our senators and delegates to answer one simple question, "Do the people of Anne Arundel County deserve a direct voice in the educational process?"

State Sen. Brian Simonaire, R-Pasadena, represents District 31.

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