J.H. Snider’s testimony before the
Maryland House of Delegates’ Ways & Means Committee on HB160, HB555, HB716,
Anne Arundel County – Board of Education – Selection of Members
Good afternoon, Madam Chair and Mr. Vice Chair. My name is J.H. (“Jim”) Snider, and I am the president of iSolon. A little about my background. I have a Ph.D. in American Government and have spent much of my professional career working in the field of democratic reform. I have also taken a great interest in school board governance in Anne Arundel County, where two of my children have served as Student Member of the Board, and I have served as chair of the Countywide Citizen Advisory Committee. My op-eds on education policy have appeared in Education Week, the Washington Post, and U.S.A. Today.
Since 2008, I have attended more meetings and published more articles on the Anne Arundel School Board Nominating Commission meeting than any other person in Anne Arundel County. Some have credited me as the justification for the Maryland General Assembly passing the legislation that created the School Board Nominating Commission in 2008.
All three of the bills before your committee on reforming the current school board selection process propose creating an elected school board. The goal of these bills, to enhance public participation and democratic accountability, is to be applauded. But one point where there is a consensus among contemporary political scientists is that elections per se don’t prevent the formation of very undemocratic political systems. We would all recognize, for example, that despite having elected legislatures, Russia, Iran, and Venezuela are hardly very democratic.
Here I have time to provide you with just one example of what happens when you design a school board electoral system that ignores the primary system, which all three bills do for both the adult and student board members. Currently, only the student member, the so-called SMOB, is elected; in its case, by the student body. But to get to the general election the SMOB must be approved by a five-member nominating panel that meets in secret and is controlled by school staff through the use of patronage. The details of this control mechanism are described in two of my op-eds published in the Washington Post. My point here is not that any of these bills aggravate this problem for the SMOB’s election but that by narrowly focusing on general election procedures they will foster similar corruption for the election of the adult school board members.
A classic democratic solution to the problem of an uninformed, passive, and easily manipulated public is a competitive party system. Political scientists generally agree that lack of a competitive political party system in a large polity such as Anne Arundel’s is a strong predictor of democratic dysfunction. But proposing a multi-party system in the Anne Arundel delegation is a political nonstarter.
I would thus encourage you to consider other mechanisms to address the electoral problems created by all three bills. I have written about some of these mechanisms in various newspaper editorials and will not repeat them here. My point is only that in addressing the corruption of the school board nominating commission process you are creating another set of unintended problems that should be debated and mitigated before an elected school board is implemented.
Other Recent Related Documents
Snider, J.H., Critique of Del. Simonaire’s consociationalist argument for diversity on the School Board, eLighthouse.info, March 16, 2017.
Snider, J.H., Critiques of the Capital’s Coverage of the General Assembly’s School Board Election Bills, eLighthouse.info, March 12, 2017.
Snider, J.H., Anne Arundel County Delegation Votes 8-7 to prevent SMOB Election Transparency, eLighthouse.info, March 10, 2017.