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."
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.