In a press release dated July 8, 2009, the Maryland State Department of Education announced its search for candidates interested in serving on the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners. The board is “responsible for raising the level of academic achievement of the students in the Baltimore City Public School System, improving the management and administration of the city’s public school system, and is held accountable for the academic achievement of the public school students in Baltimore City.”
According to the Maryland State Department of Education, the current school board submits its recommendations based on the field of candidates to the mayor and the governor. Joint approval by both public officials is required for an appointment to be made.
The criteria for the selection is that candidates must be at least eighteen years old; demonstrate managerial expertise in the administration of a large business or government entity; have knowledge or expertise in education; have a child in the school system as of the appointment date; and /or have knowledge of the education of children with disabilities. Applicants must submit a letter which addresses their strengths and qualifications for the position, provide proof of city residency, and provide three letters of recommendation. Indeed, a cursory review of the background of city school board members indicates that they fulfill the requirements for office.
On February 12, 2007, Baltimore City representatives Holten, Reisinger, and Welch submitted Council Bill 07-0251R requesting an Investigative Hearing on an Elected School Board. In the subtext for the bill, Holten et al. state that 96% of all school board members in the United States are elected to their positions rather than appointed. The movement failed.
On September 29, 1984, the NAACP announced its support for a charter amendment that called for elected rather than appointed school board members. In an article in the Baltimore AfroAmerican newspaper, the NAACP cited the predominance of elected school boards across the country, the inherent political process associated with an appointed school board, and the fact that school board members seemed “more responsive to an active constituency” when elected rather than appointed. In Baltimore City, the movement failed.
By 2004, ten of twenty-four subdivisions in Maryland have partially elected school boards; not so Baltimore.
In July, 2008 a coalition of parents, teachers, and education supporters lobbied the Annapolis legislature for the transition to at least a partially appointed school board. This emotionally laden issue polarizes educator and politician alike. In defense of an elected school board, BTU president Marietta English, “called the appointed board ‘a monster’ that created a budget deficit several years ago.” In response to the issue, Senate President Thomas (Mike) Miller said, “If I go to hell, it’s going to be because I created an elected school board.”
In an article published by The National School Boards Association, researchers Tim Waters and Robert Mazzano of the MidContinent Research for Education and Learning (MREL) reported on the results of a study on the efficacy of school boards. Waters and Mazzano noted a strong “positive correlation between district leadership and student achievement.” When there was “clear alignment of board, district, and school efforts in support of non-negotiable goals” and the board members “ensure these goals remain the primary focus of the district’s efforts and that no other initiatives detract attention or resources from accomplishing these goals,” a high level of student achievement will occur. Is this scenario possible when school board members owe their appointments to the mayor and governor and do not directly represent the interests of constituents?
The election process guarantees a field of candidates who demonstrate leadership, interest, and initiative in serving the public. More importantly, the public has an independent voice in determining the strategic direction of education (and its children) despite short-term, special interest, stop gap measures driven by the political flavor of the day.
It behooves Baltimoreans to ask yet one more time: What makes us so different from the rest of the country that we still have appointed school boards?