Prince George’s delegate seeks to calm fears regarding school board task force -- Gazette.Net


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Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith is tweaking her proposal to create a task force that would analyze the Prince George’s County school board — moving away from focusing on how members are selected and instead focusing on best practices — in response to concerns raised by the board and residents.

“I wanted to clarify because we have had a history of changes to the board, and I understand the sensitivity of that. This bill is not about changing the selection methods for the school board,” Valentino-Smith (D-Dist. 23A) of Bowie said during the board’s Jan. 24 meeting.

The original language of the bill would have created a task force of nine members — four from the General Assembly, the school board chair person, the school system superintendent, the county executive, a member of the County Council and a member of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, or in some cases their designees — whose mission would include analyzing methods of selecting board members as well as the board composition, including gender and racial diversity, and set a time period to make recommended changes.

The original bill was interpreted by some as being an attempt to reinstitute an appointed board, such as existed in the county from 2002 to 2006, or a hybrid board composed of elected and appointed officials.

Valentino-Smith insisted that was never her intention, and she put forth amendments to “clarify.”

The new language would strike any mention of the task force looking into board membership or selection and change it to a “review of the current and best practices for School Board Operation.” It would increase the task force to 12 members, exchanging the MABE member for a county school board member and including a teacher, a principal and a parent representative. The task force would look at means of improving efficiency and national innovations in school board operation.

Language regarding a phase-in period “for any recommended changes to the existing Board composition” were also struck.

Valentino-Smith stressed the amendments she has proposed are not yet part of the official version of the proposed legislation.

The school board rescinded its opposition to the bill in an 8-2 vote and then voted to table further discussion, but many board members said they were still opposed to the creation of the task force.

“We don’t have an issue with someone looking at what we do,” said board member Patricia Eubanks (Dist. 4). “What we do see as an issue is people doing it who don’t have education experience.”

Board Chairwoman Verjeana Jacobs (Dist. 5) said she would support the bill if it looked into certain questions.

“First, what are the best practices for school board governance, what can be learned about governance structures for effective school boards, and what common characteristics do effective school board members practice and how do they impact the lives of children?” she said.

David Cahn, an opponent of the original bill, welcomed the changes but said they did not go far enough.

Cahn is co-chairman of Citizens for an Elected Board, a group of various community organizations and individuals formed in 2002 when the county’s elected school board was disbanded by the state due to infighting and replaced temporarily with an appointed board.

“We’re working with her, and she’s made changes. She needs to make a few more, and I hope she does. If she does, then her bill might not be the worst thing in the world,” Cahn said.

janfenson-comeau@gazette.net