Capital Article

Sauers, Elisha, Republicans push for hybrid school board, Capital, February 17, 2016.

Snider Comment

Unlike most of our elected officials and the Capital, I don’t consider the key issue to be an appointed vs. elected school board but a well-designed appointed board or a well-designed elected board vs. what we have and what’s been proposed. Let’s take the issue of an elected board.

Political scientists long ago came to the conclusion that elections per se may be necessary but hardly sufficient for democracy to flourish. There are more than a dozen countries in the world today with elections but are nevertheless characterized as electoral authoritarian regimes. Think Russia, Iran, Venezuela, Egypt, and other countries that all elect their leaders, including their legislatures.

There are more than 14,000 elected school boards in the U.S. Many have awful or otherwise inappropriate designs; indeed, Russia may be a model democracy compared to some of them. The details matter a lot, especially the nomination process, the ability of civil society to meaningfully participate in the process, and the design of checks & balances. Moreover, the biggest problems with simplistic electoral systems occur in giant school systems such as Anne Arundel County, which is about the size of some small U.S. states. All the Anne Arundel school board election bills that have been introduced so far fail to meaningfully address these issues.

By the way, here is one very minor feature of the bill that drives me crazy and that I’ve raised several years (but not this year) with the various bill drafters. District 21 is much smaller than the other legislative districts (because it overlaps with a neighboring county) and thus violates the core principle of one-person, one-vote. Why not use the equipopulous county council districts (7) for the school board districts? Question the answer you get.