Prince George’s history not worth repeating -- Gazette.Net







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Proposed task force should not delve into appointments

There are some government changes not worth rehashing; Prince George’s County’s brief foray with an appointed school board is one of them.

Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D-Dist. 23A) of Bowie has proposed creation of a task force that would study the composition, qualifications and selection of county school board members and make recommendations intended to improve board results, accountability and transparency.

The group’s goals are welcomed; after all, performance reviews can only make the system stronger.

But the study of member qualifications and selection smacks of a return to appointed officials, a slap in the face to those who fought just a few years ago for the county to have an elected board with single-district representation.

In 2002, the county’s elected board was disbanded by the state (the effort was led by then-Del. Rushern L. Baker III) after school business began to take a back seat to infighting. At the time of the change, protesters marched outside Baker’s office, demanding the ability to elect school board members, which the county returned to four years later.

Valentino-Smith said the task force idea originated from constituents’ concerns about the school system’s poor performance, and in her defense, the task force will only issue recommendations — but she hinted at the possibility of an elected-appointed hybrid being suggested.

Valentino-Smith’s overall intentions are commendable. The school system has made gains over the years on state standardized tests, but the county still ranks at or near the bottom statewide. According to a Washington Post report, only four of the nine county board members have college degrees, while 58 out of 59 school board members in the Washington area (not including Prince George’s) have college degrees. Having appointees with experience in education matters could ease the learning curve for less-experienced elected members.

After all, it is frustrating to see well-qualified candidates with solid experience, depth of knowledge and ideas suffer election defeats to candidates who lack solutions or records of achievement but know how to campaign.

However, there is no guarantee that even the most-pedigreed appointee won’t turn out to be a poor performer, and the board has benefited from some good members who lack college accolades but know the county’s needs. In addition, many Prince Georgians complained that the appointed school board failed to listen to the community as the job didn’t hinge on residents’ support.

Perhaps the task force — instead of looking at how board members are selected — should instead analyze how voters are making their selections. Surely, there is a way to better inform voters about the candidates seeking office, the areas of expertise that would complement the position and the needs of their school districts.

In the end, however, the school board members — all of them — need to be selected by residents. The people have already spoken.