This is a tale of two counties, Baltimore and Howard, and their school boards.
In Baltimore County, not a single board member is elected. Every member is appointed by the governor.
It's the opposite in adjacent Howard County. Every member is elected.
Earlier this year, officials in each county appointed a task force. The mission of each was to make a recommendation to the General Assembly, which has authority over these issues, on whether the selection processes should be altered.
Movements in both counties were pushing to a hybrid board — a mix of appointed and elected board members.
Recent actions by both task forces raise the possibility that nothing substantive will change in either county.
This provoked frustration among some in both counties. In Howard, the issue is diversity. It is argued that some appointed seats could assure minority representation on the board.
But in Baltimore County, the issue is accountability. True, the all-appointed board enjoys the security of being above the political fray. However, it is regarded by many as inattentive to constituent concerns and reluctant to challenge Superintendent Joe Hairston, whose policies on issues including teacher testing and use of school facilities by non-school parties have provoked dismay among teachers and parents.
The local task force voted to eliminate options for an elected or hybrid board, although it left open options for methods of appointment other than by the governor.
Many see the fingerprints of former County Executive Jim Smith, a member of the task force, all over this, and are crying foul.
Smith made the motion to rule out an elected or hybrid board. While that motion passed Sept. 9, three of 12 task force members were absent — two Republicans and County Council Chairman John Olszewski, a Democrat.
"I think it was a shameless power play by Jim Smith," said Julie Sugar, president of the Loch Raven High SchoolPTA.
Proponents of an elected or hybrid school board here are not giving up.
In a news release, State Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a hybrid-board supporter, accused some task force members of "parliamentary maneuvers and tricks" to thwart what appears to be a consensus behind some voter choice.
Zirkin said on his website he would introduce a hybrid bill in Annapolis regardless of what the task force recommends.
Meanwhile, four members of council have written to Del. Steve Lafferty and state Sen. Kathy Klausmeier, co-chairs of the task force, calling for a re-vote with all members are present. Stay tuned.
All-elected school boards may have their detractors, as we see in Howard County, but all-appointed ones seem to be even more problematic.
Task force co-chairman Lafferty said this week that the task force may reconsider the hybrid and elected board options at its October meeting. We hope that's the case.
We also hope that members of the task force and legislators themselves will remember where the initial clamor for an elected board first came — citizens, such as those who testified loud and clear at the task force hearings that some form of elected board is the only way to ensure accountability.