UPDATED(4:12 p.m.)—Citing a need for greater transparency and accountability, four freshmen Baltimore County council members have signed a letter calling for the creation of a hybrid school board.
"While we believe the school system is fundamentally strong, there are disturbing issues that have eroded the trust that must exist between parents and those who lead our public schools," reads a letter released by Councilwoman Vicki Almond. "The new [president] of the school board has taken steps to improve accessibility and transparency, and we salute his leadership—but we also believe that legislative changes are needed to ensure local accountability."
The letter to state Senator Kathy Klausmeier and Del. Steve Lafferty is signed by Almond and Councilwoman Cathy Bevins and Republican Councilmen Todd Huff and David Marks. All four were elected to their first terms last November.
Almond said change is needed to foster more accountability to county residents.
"I just feel that there really needed to be a change, to be a bold step," Almond said.
The letter comes as the 12-member task force led by Klausmeier and Lafferty begins working on a report and possible recommendations regarding the county school board.
Klausmeier, in an interview Wednesday morning, said she had not seen the letter and couldn't comment.
Don Mohler, a spokesman and chief of staff to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, said the letter does little to change the county's position on elected school boards.
"The county executive believes that elected school boards work best when they have independent fiscal authority," Mohler said. "Since it doesn't seem reasonable to expect that school boards in Baltimore County will have fiscal autonomy any time soon, a elected school board would not be a viable option."
The task force was created earlier this year and charged with reviewing the composition of the county's appointed Board of Education.
Klausmeier said there are three basic options: a hybrid elected/appointed board, a fully elected board or to allow the governor to continue to appoint members.
Nationally, 93 percent of all school boards have some form of elected membership, according to Kitty Blumsack, of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.
Locally, Baltimore County is one of four appointed boards of education.
The letter sent by the council members calls for the creation of a hybrid school board. Seven members of the hybrid board would be made up of members elected from each of the seven council districts. The other four would be appointed.
The four council members said the hybrid model "would attract the broadest support possible and actually pass the Maryland General Assembly."
Sen. Delores Kelley, who is a member of the task force, and others have opposed a partial or fully elected school board saying that it could limit diversity.
Mohler added Wednesday that Kamenetz believes any lost of diversity "would be a step in the wrong direction for the county."
But in their letter, the four council members say giving four appointments to the county executive would allow for the selection "of members reflective of the county's diversity."
"It's a tough subject," Almond said of changes to the school board. "Everyone wants a perfect solution and there is none."
The call for a hybrid board
Olszewski is a member of the school board task force, and he has talked about wanting to continue with the current system for filling school board positions—but with members appointed by the county executive rather than the governor.
"We didn't really ask permission," Almond said. "We did alert him to what we were doing. It was the courteous thing to do. We didn't expect him to sign the letter. We know how he feels."
The council, which has five freshmen members, continues to show a willingness to take public stands on issues outside of their roles as local legislators. This is different from councils over the last two decades.
In interviews earlier this year, Almond and Marks said they would support state legislators who wanted to create a hybrid or fully elected school board.
In June, five of seven council members signed a letter urging county residents to that would place a bill granting in-state tuition rates to some illegal immigrants on the 2012 ballot.
The school board task force held the last of its three public meetings last week.
It's expected to deliver a to the county's delegates and senators by Oct. 1.