Capital Article

Yeager, Amanda, Anne Arundel House delegation endorses fully elected school board, March 10, 2017

Snider Comment

“The delegation voted down a series of amendments to the legislation, including a proposal from Del. Seth Howard, R-West River, to subject the student group that helps choose SMOB candidates to the state’s open meetings and public information laws. Howard argued the change would increase transparency in the process of selecting a student member, who has full voting rights, including on decisions on the budget and collective bargaining agreements…. The measure failed on a 7 to 8 vote.”

The reporter doesn’t mention that seven Republicans voted for the bill with seven Democrats opposing it, with Del. Meagan Simonaire unexpectedly breaking the tie. In an op-ed in this newspaper, I called for greater transparency concerning the nominating panel that nominates students and gives the superintendent, teachers union, and administrators union de facto veto power over the three nominees submitted to the student body. The CRASC meeting at which the decision creating this nominating panel was passed was not subject to the Open Meetings Act because, as noted here, CRASC is not subject to the Open Meetings Act. For more details on the culture of secrecy and insider control that has engulfed CRASC, see “The SMOB Election and Riva Road’s Culture of Intimidation” at The culture of secrecy has been essential to maintaining the power of the insiders over the process. That is why it was crucial to allow a little sunshine into the process.

Capital Editorial

Our say: Mainly elected school board taking shape, March 12, 2017.

Snider Comment

“In a refreshing break from past years, the argument is no longer largely along party lines: Both House and Senate plans have bipartisan sponsorship.”

What is most striking is not merely a change, but a REVERSAL, which has gone unreported in the Capital. The Republicans who supported a hybrid board in past years used to argue that they favored an all-elected school board and only favored a hybrid board as a pragmatic compromise needed to win Democratic support. The Democrats, in turn, were until last year adamantly opposed to an elected school board in any form. Now they have voted in favor of a purely elected board for the adult members.

“The remaining dispute boils down to a word: diversity.”

Among its many bald assumptions, this statement assumes that the rationalizations publicly presented by politicians explain their behavior. Interesting here is that it used to be the Democrats, not the Republicans, who argued in favor of an appointed board in terms of diversity. Oddly, no self-proclaimed advocate for diversity has publicly addressed the way most countries and regional bodies use an electoral system to address diversity issues: proportional representation, the most popular form of electoral system in the world (this omission I attribute to mere ignorance rather than any knowledge of alternative electoral systems). And lastly, as another reader noted, the concern with diversity is hardly applied consistently across our local elections. The reader’s reference to the county council is but one example. A better example in this context might be the three-member electoral districts for General Assembly members, which was specifically designed to repress minority representation and which the Voting Rights Act frowns on in states that used to be part of the confederacy. In contrast, the proposed school board districts are all single member (based on councilmanic districts).

Additional Comments

Former County Auditor Teresa Sutherland submitted to the Anne Arundel Delegation comments that were read at the delegation meeting in support of Delegate Howard’s bill seeking transparency in CRASC procedures.  Here is the relevant section:

I also agree with Delegate Howard that if the SMOB continues to be appointed, the appointment process
should be subject to open meeting and public information laws. When you take money out of the
taxpayers’ pockets to pay for a public operation, the taxpayers deserve the right and ability to determine
how that money is being spent, how the decisions were made to spend it that way, who made those
decisions, and how they were put in the position of making those decisions. Simply, my interests as a
taxpayer in knowing who is deciding how my tax dollars are spent and how that person was appointed are
superior to any privacy interests of a student who is voluntarily applying to be the SMOB.
The AACPS administration’s opposition to open and transparent process raises my suspicions. What
don’t they want to come to light? The BOE is a public body overseeing a $1.1 billion taxpayer-funded
operation. The sun should shine on every aspect of that operation every single day. Nothing short of
personnel disciplinary matters and advice from legal counsel should be closed to the public.

School Board President Stacy Korbelak, speaking on behalf of the Board of Education, disagreed with Howard and Sutherland.  Here is the relevant section from her letter to the delegation:

[T]he Board urges you to reject amendments that would force the Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils (CRASC) to be subject to the terms of the Maryland Open Meetings Act or the Maryland Public Information Act. CRASC is not a public body and, therefore, does not fall under the provisions of either Act. Even if it did, the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act presents significant concerns with regard to parental preference on student privacy issues so that such compliance with the Open Meetings Act may be difficult, if not impossible. The CRASC process for electing a student Board member also aligns with the process for the student member of the State Board of Education.

I should note that Korbelak’s last statement is incorrect.  First, the Office of Maryland’s Attorney General issued a statement that making CRASC subject to the Open Meetings Act was not incompatible with Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.  Second, the process for electing the state SMOB is very different than that for electing Anne Arundel’s SMOB.  And even if they were identical, two wrongs don’t make a right.  Both the state and AACPS SMOB process are less transparent than they should be and give undo power to school staff.  But in Anne Arundel County the corruption made possible by staff exercising power in secret is much greater.  The good aspect of this secrecy is that the staff wouldn’t otherwise be such strong champions of the SMOB position.  Operating in the shadows is what gives them their power over the process that selects the SMOB.  An unfortunate aspect is that when this secrecy and control is lost, the staff will be happy to throw the SMOB under the bus.

Cited Documents

The Tally on the 8-7 Vote

Text of the Amendments

Teresa Sutherland Letter (page 1)

Stacy Korbelak Letter (page 2)

Office of Maryland Attorney General Letter