Capital Op-Ed

Collins, Michael, Right stuff: Democrats give themselves edge on elected school board, Capital, May 11, 2017.

Snider Comment

“Democrats typically enjoy higher turnout in presidential election years, and so it is fairly safe to say that this will give an advantage to Democratic candidates.”

A political scientist has written a book that off-year school board elections favor Democrats. But the book was about the many districts that hold separate local vs. state and national elections. So it’s not a straight apples to apples comparison with what’s described here.

“Then, there is their ace in the hole: the student member.”

Well, yes, the superintendent and his staff have developed ingenious ways to control the student member of the board. But Collins doesn’t get the mechanism of this control quite right. As I explained in a series of op-eds, most of the influence is exercised via the staff’s control of the below-the-public radar nominating process; staff are in a much weaker position after a student gets elected, especially during the SMOB’s spring semester when the college applications have long ago been sent and the BOE makes the crucial budget votes. Compared to the many Board of Education members who have had spouses or children work for AACPS (less than a decade ago a majority of adult board members were in this position), the SMOB’s POST-election conflicts are relatively minor.

“creating instead a Rube Goldberg process involving a nominating commission.”

Our elected officials have continued to call this a nominating commission, so it’s easy to see how Collins got this wrong. But it’s now an “appointment” commission. Big, big difference.

“features that serve to lock in Democratic control of the board.”

Collins always sees politics through a partisan prism, a prism that local newspapers also tend to love. With a party-centered electoral system, that prism generally offers a very helpful perspective. But with a non-partisan school board electoral system, it can be especially misleading, which is the case here. In this case, Democrats and Republicans designed an elected school board that strongly favors the most powerful local special interest groups. Even the most basic precautions, such as meaningful campaign finance disclosure, were blithely dismissed. This can most vividly be seen in the new School Board Appointment Commission of Anne Arundel County, which will be controlled (much of it behind the scenes) by a who’s who of Anne Arundel special interest groups. Since no politician of either party wanted to be seen opposing any one of these groups, legislation creating it sailed through without any public explanation as to even who was on this commission, let alone how it would be likely to exercise influence. When the public finally sees this appointment commission in operation, it will be interesting to see how the politicians react.