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Diversity Concerns Could Derail School Board Bill

Bill is scheduled for a committee vote Thursday but supporters aren't optimistic.

A bill that would create a partially elected school board in Baltimore County could get a vote in a Maryland state Senate committee but the result may not be what supporters are hoping for.

"The prospects look very dim right now," said Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a sponsor of a Senate bill that would create a partially elected, partially appointed school board.

The bill is set for a vote in committee today, according to the Democratic senator from Owings Mills.

Zirkin made his comments Wednesday after learning that the chairwoman of the committee said the bill would likely die there rather than receive a vote on the Senate floor.

"I don't like the bill and neither does the committee," said Sen. Joan Carter Conway, who chairs the committee and represents Baltimore City.

Conway cited concerns about a lack of diversity that could result from the bill.

"Baltimore County only has one black councilman on the council and based on the population it should have more," Conway said, adding that the school board is more diverse because of appointments made by the governor.

Conway initially suggested on Wednesday morning that the bill might never come up for a committee vote.

But after a conversation Wednesday with Sen. Kathy Klausmeier, the chairwoman of the Baltimore County Senate delegation, Conway said the bill would be voted on in committee but did not initially give a date.

Conway told Republican Sen. J.B. Jennings, in the pressence of a reporter, that "local bills die all the time in committee."

Jennings, who represents Baltimore and Harford Counties, is a co-sponsor of the school board bill and a member of Conway's committee.

Initially, both House and Senate versions of the school board bill called for a fully elected school board. Zirkin later amended his bill to create a board with seven elected members and four appointed members.

Zirkin said he believed elections would continue to produce a diverse board but the appointments could be used to adjust for any real or perceived disparity.

The House bill passed earlier this week and was sent to the same Senate Committee where Zirkin and Jenning's bill awaits a vote. Conway has already indicated that she would not support a fully elected board such as the one contained in the House bill.

Currently, 20 of the 24 jurisdictions in the state have some form of elected school board. The school boards for Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Wicomico Counties are fully appointed.

Two years ago, Jennings sponsored a bill that created a partially-elected school board in Harford County. He said the differences between that bill and the Baltimore County bill are negligible.

"Ninety percent of it is the same," said Jennings. "Why she (Conway) won't pass it is a mystery."

Cathi Forbes, an education advocate and Towson resident, learned that the bill was in trouble when she called Conway's office on Tuesday.

Forbes said an aide cited concerns about diversity and a letter from the NAACP opposing the bill based the "history of racial segregation in Baltimore County."

"As someone who has been in the trenches in education in Baltimore County, I don't see how an elected school board would be a bad thing," said Forbes, adding that she understands the concerns over maintaining a racially diverse school board.

"I would hope we would get diversity out of either of these bills," said Forbes.

Patricia Ferguson, president of the Baltimore County Chapter of the NAACP, was not immediately available for comment but in a Feb. 23 letter, Ferguson wrote that the organization opposed an elected or partially-elected school board citing concerns about diversity.

"The bill states that these newly established districts will meet certain criteria, including 'enhance the opportunity for minority representation,'" wrote Ferguson. "While it is easy to make such a claim on paper, and it may look politically correct, it cannot be assured, especially since Baltimore County is so segregated residentially already. You would literally have to gather-up segments of the minority population and physically 'place' them in areas of the county. Even then, parity on an elected Board would be doubtful. This matter is about the community as a whole and all people. These legislative actions could lead to many people from different segments in the community perceiving themselves as being disenfranchised and marginalized. Then, the proposed solution will likely become the problem."

Ferguson also said there was a lack of agreement among members of a school board task force last summer and said that group failed to hold any hearings in minority communities.

"This action, in itself, shows how it may appear that minorities are being included, when in actuality they aren’t," wrote Ferguson.

K Blue March 30, 2012 at 03:31 PM
Is Sen. Conway incapable of representing white or male constituents? Is Sen. Pinksy incapable of representing his female constituents? Its all rubbish. I really wish these legislators would stop perpetuating racial division in this County. The hybrid bill should pass. There is no logical reason why it should not. The diversity issues are addressed in the revised bill. On the flip side, if the bill doesnt pass and the Governor (or the County Executive) were to pick all white males for appointment, there is no recourse. We have a gubernatorial election coming up relatively soon (as well as County Executive election) and anything could happen. Perhaps if this County ended up with an all-majority appointed board, the NAACP and Sen. Conway would not be so quick to discount the practical merits of this bill.
Josephine Hlatki March 31, 2012 at 12:06 PM
As long as the black white issue continues there will always be segregation. I have many black friends and they think like a person, not a color, same with whites. In fact, my black friends are insulted by this garbage. Can't our legislators move into this Century and give blacks and whites some credit for thinking like people and not colors. Sheesh!
Eastsider March 31, 2012 at 01:16 PM
Josephine, I have countless black friends think the same way. Want to be treated equally, hired equally and promototed equally based on who is best for the job and not thier skin color or sex...But you still have the other ones still living in the past of you owe me this due to what happened to my people years ago....
Josephine Hlatki March 31, 2012 at 01:27 PM
Yes, it's a shame that still goes on. It's passed down through generations of ignorance and hate. I guess we'll never really be rid of racial hatred by some on both sides. It's insulting to blacks to know they are hired only because of their color. I take pride in the fact that I got my job because of my qualifications, knowing that any advancement I make is also based on that.
Chillin March 31, 2012 at 01:32 PM
Their was no good reason for Conway to throw the race diversity arguments into this matter. I think she just threw it in the mix to retain her credibility as a sista with her brotha constituents. When there is no real basis for a race argument some black leaders throw the race issue into the discussion just for a litmus test to see who retracts. It's also an easy way to the headlines and free campaigning.

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