Gov. Larry Hogan has appointed the 2016-17 school year student member of our school board. The student member, who has the same voting rights as the adult members, was nominated by a countywide student council delegated with that task by the General Assembly.
The governor knew that the student council violated not only widely held government ethics standards but its own constitutionally specified election procedure. Nevertheless, he went ahead with the appointment.
The student council’s constitution specifies that three individuals, two students and a school employee, must constitute the committee to nominate student candidates. But the 2016 nominating committee consisted of: Jacob Horstkamp, the current student member; Scott Howarth, the student council president; Aimee Poisson, the schools superintendent’s direct representative; Kristina Dyson, nominated by the superintendent’s representative but subject to the veto of the student council president; Richard Benfer, representing the teachers union; and Nelson Horine, representing the administrators’ union.
The two union representatives were given the same rights as the other committee members to participate in the committee’s secret deliberations, except the right to vote.
The student council made available an undated document spelling out the new election procedure. But in response to a Public Information Act request, it failed to provide a duly passed motion approving the new procedure. It also failed to amend its constitution to incorporate the proposed procedure.
The nominating committee’s composition violated well-established ethical norms regarding elections; specifically, it is a blatant conflict of interest for school district employees to have veto power over their district’s school board candidates. In Maryland, it is illegal for school employees to serve on the school board that oversees them.
The nominating committee’s embarrassingly undemocratic procedures and composition help explain its secrecy. Not only did it meet and vote in secret, but the student council withheld the names of its school employee members until forced to provide that information in response to a Public Information Act request.
Students who serve on the nominating committee also have serious undisclosed conflicts of interest in fulfilling their duty to represent the student voice, as the school administrators who control the committee are perceived as having control over college recommendations, pending scholarships and other highly sought perks.
Two of my children, both of whom often voted against the superintendent, served as student member of the board. Neither could have done so if the current rigged system had been in place.
Recall the movie “Spotlight,” which won the 2016 Oscar for Best Picture. It documents the cover-up by police, political, press and church leaders of widespread and long-term child molestation by priests in Boston’s Archdiocese.
That’s the type of political calculation I believe the governor made when he chose to overlook the irregularities in the nominating process. He knew about the legal and ethical violations before making his appointment because I published a Washington Post article outlining them and conversed with his staff responsible for Anne Arundel school board issues.
Nor was he alone in making that calculation, as many Democratic and Republican leaders also knew of the abuses and chose to ignore them. Indeed, school district leaders knew of the abuses and lobbied for them to be overlooked as insignificant. But the governor’s power over the process made him uniquely responsible for turning a blind eye.
Unfortunately, the secret misuse of government resources for political purposes within our school system has not been limited to the misuses described here. Such misuses have become widespread for mobilizing parents and students on political issues and intimidating potential troublemakers. This is the larger problem the governor chose not to take on.
From a political perspective, the governor’s upholding an undemocratic election was probably shrewd. From the perspective of upholding legal and ethical norms essential to preserving the integrity of elections, it’s a sad outcome.
Severna Park resident J.H. Snider, the president of iSolon.org, has written widely on issues of democratic governance and education policy.
Source: Snider, J.H., Hogan upholds rigged election system, Capital, July 11, 2016.
Note the following comment on this article by Rick Streeter, a former Countywide Citizen Advisory Committee vice chair, whose daughter, Amanda Streeter, served on the nominating committee/commission as the president of CRASC. His comment reflects the logic of the Spotlight narrative, where the victims/accomplices didn’t speak out in a timely way because they knew they would be vilified if they did. On July 13, 2016, this comment was passed on to the Capital‘s editor-in-chief and editorial page editor. The Capital has never reported on insiders’ control of the student nominating process, and it subsequently removed this comment from its website.
Not living in AA anymore, and now having both of my children out of AACPS… I feel fairly free to comment… One of my children (within this decade) was on that selection committee twice. She was put under unconscionable pressure to vote for candidates acceptable to what was then the power establishment at Riva Road (and against those who were deemed to be potential “troublemakers”. And while completely unprovable… because she did not play ball she was indeed refused a scholarship that was customarily given to her predecessors who held those positions. I have said in many forums… The AA School Board selection process would make any third world banana republic dictator embarrassed that he didn’t think it up himself.