Some issues simply require additional time for sober reflection.
When Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary and Councilman Jon Weinstein announced their collaboration on a bill that would turn the “all at large” seven member Howard County Board of Education into a body that would feature five district and two at-large seats, my visceral response was that it sounded like a smart reform measure.
But distracted by all of the glitz and glam that the Metro Center area has to offer, I found myself lacking the time to give an appropriate level of thought to the proposal.
Two months later, I think their bill makes a great deal of sense. First, it promotes awareness and accountability. Having one person serving as one’s district-based Board of Education member, along with two at-large members for everyone, makes it easier for people to get to know their school board member. It makes individual advocacy efforts by parents, students, and other stakeholders easier. Have an issue with a school in, for example, Elkridge? If the Atterbeary/Weinstein (Weinstein/Atterbeary?) legislation were to be enacted, a neighborhood-based board member becomes the logical point of contact. This should also promote geographic diversity among the board membership and, hopefully, a greater familiarity with the unique opportunities and challenges facing all of the schools across our growing County.
Frankly, the same rationale applies to shifting from multi-member state delegate districts to single-member districts, but I will revisit that issue on another day.
Back to my main point, there are many entities that exercise policy-making functions whereby the individual members are elected by a smaller constituency to represent a larger interest. This is how every state legislature works. This is how Congress works. This is how our County Council works. [Note: an earlier version of this post incorrectly cited MoCo's BoE as an example here. Are there elected Boards of Education with similar arrangements? I am going to go with almost certainly. Do I have time to look them up? No, but feel free to do so]. [Second note: thinking about local examples, I believe that at least some of the Harford County Board of Education seats are district-based. I think they have a hybrid that includes elected and appointed as well as at-large and district board members. Again, you may want to check on that.].
My contention is this: the partial reorganization of the Howard County Board of Education would not invite an epoch of rampant provincialism. Everyone who holds the office would know that their duty is to act in the best interests of the County as a whole. Moreover, as is frequently pointed out, majorities are required for the Board to act. Thus, it is difficult to make a compelling argument that having multiple district-based seats would lead to a “less equitable” distribution of resources anymore than saying that the current arrangement, with representation from only three of the five Council Districts, leads to such inequities.
Bottom line: as a measure designed to promote the connection between the public and the policy-setting body, the Atterbeary-Weinstein plan is the right move for Howard County’s public education system. If you haven’t already, let your elected representatives know. Tell ‘em Sparty sent you.
Stay tuned, as more will follow.