By Len Lazarick
After years of resistance, the Anne Arundel County senators voted Friday for a fully elected school board, approving a bill that has already passed the House of Delegates.
Anne Arundel County is one of the last three counties in Maryland with a school board in totally appointed by the governor after a nominating process.
The measure must still be approved by the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee and the full Senate.
For years, the local delegates and senators have debated how to make the selection of members of the Anne Arundel Board of Election more accountable to voters.
This year the House delegates voted 14-1 — eight Democrats and seven Republicans — for an elected board. It would have seven members chosen by county council districts, and a student member. That measure, HB716, passed the House of Delegates unanimously March 17.
Eighteen of Maryland’s 23 counties have fully elected boards, with Montgomery County the first to make the switch in the 1950s.
The Anne Arundel senators had backed a hybrid board, with seven members elected by council districts, three appointed by a commission to guarantee diversity on the board and a student member. That passed the full Senate on March 17 as well, with only Anne Arundel County Sen. James Ed DeGrange voting against it. DeGrange has consistently opposed any form of elected board.
Delegates reject hybrid
The Anne Arundel County delegates rejected the hybrid version Friday morning after its sponsor, Sen. Bryan Simonaire, tried to reach a compromise.
Sen. John Astle, the Annapolis Democrat who chairs the Senate delegation, had softened his opposition this year, perhaps reflecting his announced intention to run for mayor of the capital city after serving 34 years in the legislature.
Standing in their usual meeting spot just outside the Senate doors in the State House lobby, Astle told the five Anne Arundel senators — three Democrats and two Republicans — that after the delegates rejected their hybrid version, if they didn’t approve the House bill for a fully elected board, “we’re going to wind up with nothing.”
“We’ve got 7 days left; it’s not a lot of time,” he said. “We’ve got to get it done.”
Except for DeGrange, Sens. Astle, Jim Rosapepe, Ed Reilly and Bryan Simonaire, all voted for a fully elected board, approving the House bill without amendment.
Just prior to the vote, in the Senate chamber, Astle had received a standing ovation from his Senate colleagues in honor of his 74th birthday.
A story about votes on the school board election bill in the Annapolis Capital by Amanda Yeager has further details about the bill’s prospects in the Senate committee.