Howard County Board of Education – Elected School Board Ho. Co. 11-17 Now HB 1299

Photo via Baltimore Sun

Photo via Baltimore Sun

I wrote about an update to Ho. Co. 11-17 back on the 9th and now I have more information for you. This proposed legislation made it though the Howard County Delegation (with some changes) and has now been assigned House Bill 1299.

I had a chance to review HB 1299 and even had a chance to briefly chat with Delegate Atterbeary about the bill and the changes. I am happy to see this continue to move forward (as opposed to last year when it was killed) and I do see this as potentially a good first step but I am disappointed that the full delegation would not pass the original version. Compromise is important at times to move legislation along but do the changes this year hurt more than help? You can decide when you read the changes below.

Now on to the details of this legislation…specifically looking at what the amendment changes from the original version.

The original legislation called for the following:

THE SEVEN ELECTED MEMBERS SHALL BE ELECTED AS FOLLOWS:

ONE MEMBER FROM EACH OF THE FIVE COUNCILMANIC DISTRICTS IN THE COUNTY, ELECTED BY THE VOTERS OF THAT DISTRICT; AND TWO MEMBERS AT LARGE, ELECTED BY THE VOTERS OF THE COUNTY.

What made it into HB 1299 is the following:

THE SEVEN ELECTED MEMBERS SHALL BE ELECTED AS FOLLOWS:

FIVE MEMBERS, EACH OF WHOM RESIDES IN A DIFFERENT ONE OF THE FIVE COUNCILMANIC DISTRICTS IN THE COUNTY; AND TWO MEMBERS WHO MAY RESIDE ANYWHERE IN THE COUNTY.

and…

The seven elected members of the Howard County Board shall be elected: From Howard County at large BY THE VOTERS OF THE ENTIRE COUNTY

Now let’s be very clear in what this change does…instead of individuals in districts voting for “their” Board of Education member (in the 5 councilmanic districts), the entire county will vote for all 5 seats as well as the two at large seats. I personally do not like this change and here is the scenario I see happening that really concerns me:

2 candidates (candidate A and Candidate B) will run for HoCoBOE in district 5 (you can insert any district number here). Candidate A receives the most votes from voters in District 5 but Candidate B gets the most votes in the County. Candidate B wins and District 5 does not get the representation they preferred.

If you feel that this is OK then I guess you would support no longer having Howard County Council Members elected by district vote but now we should have this go to a full county vote for those 5 seats. While we are at it, why should the most votes in districts for State Senator or Delegate be used to select representation in Annapolis, we should go ahead and make that a statewide vote as well. OK, yes, I know I am being ridiculous but that is what I think of this change to the legislation.

There are other changes but this is the BIG change that apparently was necessary to get Senator Kasemeyer on board and vote yes this year. Without his yes vote, this bill would have died as it did last year. Yes, I do realize that Senator Bates also voted against this bill last year (as she is a Republican – her no vote is not a shocker against a bill written by a Democrat) and you will read below that she voted no again this year. She and Delegate Flanagan withdrew their competing HoCoBOE election bills this month (thank goodness, they were not good bills in my opinion).

Before you say to me “but Montgomery County does it this way”, here is my response: because one jurisdiction writes a bad bill does not mean we should do the same thing here. I mean, if Montgomery County jumped off a bridge, should we also? (I feel like my parents taught me that lesson when I was young).

One additional change I will mention…the original bill was designed to begin in 2018…HB 1299 begins this legislation in 2020. OK, not earth shattering but I thought worth mentioning. I am not sure what the additional two years does except to delay enacting this even further out.

I am trying to stay positive and look at this as a good thing and a much needed first step. I am a big fan of Delegate Atterbeary and know she has worked very hard on getting this passed for more than a year. I applaud her efforts and none of my frustration is with her, it really is all about Senator Kasemeyer at this point. Why does he not trust the the voters in each district to choose their own representative to the Board of Education? Has he cut a deal with someone? Is he playing “partisan politics” in a county that is mostly “Blue” in order to stack the Board of Education with those in his own party? These may be questions the voters in District 12 ask in the next election.

Before I catch heck over the fact that Board of Education is a non-partisan election let me tell you that is far from the truth. This argument was brought up last year when the bill was killed. Anyone that is involved with local politics or watching it knows which candidates are Republicans or Democrats. Just look at which HoCoBOE candidate signs are hanging in or positioned around the political party tents, trailers or other structures at community events. If you just watch social media and posts from local political parties, it is easy to tell which BOE candidates are supported by which political party (by the signs in the photos – I have MANY examples for those that need convincing of this fact).

I always find it interesting to look back on who supported or who opposed legislation, here is how the vote went down on this bill (as amended):

hoco-11-17-vote

I believe Delegate Pendergrass may have voted no because of the same concerns I have with the changes from the original proposed legislation, but I do not have final confirmation of that fact. I will try and reach out to her for confirmation on her no vote.  (see her comment below).

I did reach out to some folks at the BOE and at the state for comments yesterday, here is what I have received so far: (if I get additional comments in the future, I will be sure to update this post)

Kirsten Coombs (Board of Education) – I was surprised that it included the whole county voting for the entire Board of Education. The method of determining who the at-large candidate will be based on 2018 which seems like a reasonable way to do so. I know that others have concerns about the fairness of voters in other districts voting on their district’s choice. This doesn’t do away with countywide races, though, which I had thought was an initial effort in the 2016 legislation. This bill does encourage geographic diversity, which is good as six out of the seven adult members live west of Rt. 29.

Delegate Shane Pendergrass (District 13) – Delegate Atterbeary’s hard work and collaborative approach made it very difficult to vote against the school board bill.  While I would have voted for it in its original form, the bill lost the most important aspects when it was amended. My goal was to empower well intentioned people with volunteer experience in the area of education (likely from their local PTAs), and with no particular political background, to run in districts that are manageable in size.  This would ultimately provide constituents with a greater level of accessibility and accountability in their elected officials. I believe the Howard County School Board members would innately understand the importance of working together for the benefit of all schools. The bill as amended did not accomplish my goals.

If this passes and becomes law, I will hold out hope that it is brought forward again and the voting process is corrected so that local jurisdictions have the say in who represents their district on the Board of Education.

I am curious on your thoughts on the changes in this bill and curious if you support it today?

Scott E

THE HIKER

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9 responses to “Howard County Board of Education – Elected School Board Ho. Co. 11-17 Now HB 1299

  1. I have analyzed the districts in which the candidates for the School Board have resided and have not found anyone living in Council District 3 back to at least 2006 and possibly 2004 or 2002 where the address data was incomplete. So nobody in District 3 has chosen to run for at least a decade. Will this plan bring out more qualified candidates or just candidates who will find it easier to run for the HCPSS Board?

  2. Thank you for your information and analysis, Scott. Following are some responses to some of your concerns. I understand that they may not change your mind, but I think that they should be part of the conversation.
    1) I believe that our present system is better than any of the alternatives that have been proposed.
    a) The ability to change the board as was done this year will only be possible every 4 years; the public would have had the “old” board for another two years before they could have done something about it.
    b) Some of the best people could be lost and diversity on the board could be reduced (I believe that would be the situation with the present board)
    c) A district would be “stuck” with a member they might become unhappy with for 4 years; if the cluster system would be used seriously, it could permit flexibility with the development of a protocol to change cluster representatives (who I feel should otherwise remain with the same cluster for at least 4 years with prodigious PR (e.g., generally, when a principal’s name is on a form, the cluster representative’s name and contact information would be on it, too).
    d) There might not be a well-qualified candidate that wants to run in every district for every election.
    2) Benefits of the new proposal over the old proposal:
    a) Voters have a say regarding all board members who are making decisions that affect their students.
    b) The concern about voters having students attend schools outside of their district and thus could not vote for members who would represent their students’ schools would be eliminated.
    3) You stated some concerns about the new proposal I would like to address:
    a) Regarding your comments about Candidates A and B, I feel there is often a difference between board members and county councilmembers (or, for that matter, state legislators). Board members more frequently deal with issues that affect students throughout the county, whereas council members often (though, of course, not always) deal with more localized issues.
    b) The board has a cluster system in place (though I feel it is greatly underutilized); the council does not.
    c) I agree that just because Montgomery County does it does not mean that we should; in fact, I feel that our present system is better than Montgomery County’s.
    d) You asked about why 2020 was chosen instead of 2018; it could have been chosen to reduce the chance of board candidates running on “slates” with council candidates, which would instill increased partisanship into what is ideally designed to be a non-partisan race (whether or not it is in practice).
    4) Does this have to “get political”?
    a) What I mean is that I have a lot of respect for both Delegate Atterbeary and Senator Kasemeyer. Whatever my preference is, I like to think that both of them are doing what they are doing because they think that it is the right thing to do, given that tightrope-walk between considering constituent desires and doing what they is right. It does not strike me as fair to assume, for example, that Senator Kasemeyer is making his decisions based on cutting a deal or playing partisan politics, when it is easy to support the view that he simply feels it is the best decision. I can’t make guarantees, but I have not seen proof otherwise from either Delegate Atterbeary or Senator Kasemeyer. I have seen similar accusations made by others. If you or they have proof, I’d be interested in seeing it. If not, shouldn’t they “be innocent until proven guilty” of cutting deals or playing partisan politics?
    b) If I wanted to be politically expedient, I would be supporting one of Delegate Atterbeary’s bills, as most of the people with whom I usually agree (including you) are doing so. But I am not supporting them, based on my judgment, with which you and others may or may not agree. I feel I should start by assuming similarly about others unless I see a reason to feel otherwise. It simply appears to me that our present system just worked pretty well, and all change is not good. I see more potential negative consequences in the proposed bills than in what we have presently. Though you may disagree, I hope that you and others can see that there are real reasons upon which I am basing my view, and though my mind will continue to stay open, I hope that yours and that of others will also be open to considering other points of view. There are pros and cons for each proposal, and you certainly bring up valid concerns; as with so many of these types of decisions, the situation is not “black and white.” When it comes to which shade of gray is chosen, I hope that the outcome will be for the best. Thank you for your consideration.

  3. Robert, you stated “b) The concern about voters having students attend schools outside of their district and thus could not vote for members who would represent their students’ schools would be eliminated.” I am not sure how this problem will meet everyone’s situation. For example, in District 1 there are parts of 6 high school districts: Long Reach, Howard, Mt. Hebron, Marriotts Ridge, Centennial and Wilde Lake. Yet, Centennial is the only school building actually in the district, and it is conceivable to redistrict the Council District so that Centennial is in District Five. Conversely, the Wilde Lake attendance area is in 3 Council Districts: 1, 4, and 5. Most of the high schools are in at least 2 Council Districts; the only exception being Glenelg in District 5.

    How would the clusters be assigned when the schools attendance areas are in multiple Council District?

    • Hi, HoCo Common Sense! I’m sorry, but I’m not sure that I understand your question; I will try to answer it, but if I am not on the right track, please let me know. In the original bill, for example, a parent could live in District 1 but have a student attend a school that is in District 2. That parent would not be able to vote for someone who would represent the school his/her student attends. On the other hand, if board members are elected countywide, that voter could vote for all of the board members, and his/her student’s school could be represented by a board member who had that school in his/her cluster. Thus, any parent from any district who has a student at that school could contact the board member whose cluster that school is in when a concern arises. (For the cluster concept to be taken seriously, I would like to see clusters assigned to board members for at least 4 years, and to have the cluster representative contact information included in school correspondence in a similar manner as school principal contact information.)

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