Elected School Board Soap Opera Continues

Just when you thought that Anne Arundel County delegates were going to take a final vote, at long last, for a fully-elected school board — the vote was delayed again for some last-minute amendments.

Not that there’s any worry that this years-long, mind-numbing soap opera will end. There is no indication that the senators will go along with the House plan and Anne Arundel might wind up, again, as the only remaining county in Maryland where the Board of Education is still totally appointed by the governor.

I can’t believe I’m writing about this again. And it’s hard to believe that these folks can’t agree on a process that Howard County accomplished 40 years ago, and Montgomery County did long before that.

Delegation Chair Pam Beidle, lead sponsor of the bill moving forward, expressed her frustration. “We need to get this resolved,” she said. “The longer we hold it up, the more trouble we’re going to have on the other side of the street,” meaning the Senate office buildings.

Astle Unpersuaded

The trouble is coming from the usual source, Sen. John Astle, the Democrat who represents Annapolis and is the most senior member of the entire delegation, with a combined 34 years in the House and Senate.

“I’m not excited” about a fully-elected school board, Astle told me minutes after the delegates met. “I’m just uncomfortable with a fully elected school board.”

Astle and the other four senators who represent the county have blocked an elected school board in the past, including a bill several years ago sponsored by Beidle and then-Del. Steve Schuh, now the county executive.

Astle has moved toward an elected board, and this year co-sponsored a proposal by Sen. Bryan Simonaire (R) for what is termed a hybrid board. Like Beidle’s bill, Simonaire’s legislation calls for seven members elected by council district; it then adds three more members appointed by a special commission. There would also be a student member of the board, as exists now.

Both bills would replace a nominating process that sends names to the governor. Democrats and others were unhappy with some of the picks by Gov. Larry Hogan.

Del. Meagan Simonaire, Sen. Simonaire’s daughter, is the sponsor of the hybrid bill in the House. She pitched the bill to her fellow delegates as a way to guarantee diversity on the school board, particularly African-American representation, which elections do not assure.

Possible Amendments

What held up the vote on the final bill was a series of late arriving amendments by Republican Del. Herb McMillan. He proposed rules to keep the school board elections as nonpartisan as possible — school board candidates throughout Maryland already run in nonpartisan elections.

McMillan wanted to prevent school board candidates from running on slates with partisan candidates for other offices, such as county council or legislature. (This rarely happens in counties such as Howard.) He would also prohibit unions from contributing to school board campaigns.

McMillan said he would be getting a letter from the counsel to the General Assembly, assuring that his restrictions would be constitutional. He also wanted to restrict the voting and participation of the student member.

According to Beidle, the high school senior on the Anne Arundel board is the only one in the nation with full voting rights. In many counties, student members cannot participate on a range of personnel and budget matters.

McMillan’s partisan concerns got him into a squabble with the other delegate who represents the Annapolis area, Democratic House Speaker Michael Busch. Busch bemoaned how the election for judges last year had become very partisan, with the four sitting judges running as a Republican slate endorsed by Hogan. McMillan pointed out that Busch had endorsed the Democrat in the race after initially backing the sitting judges.

Busch admitted the point, but it was just another incident in their ongoing feud. The two had an angry exchange of columns in The Capital late last year.

McMillan is a maverick in his own party, often going it alone on the House floor. There was yet another example later on Ash Wednesday, when McMillan offered the last Republican amendment to the paid sick leave bill that Democrats were planning to pass. McMillan’s amendment substituted Gov. Hogan’s proposal for covering only firms with 50 or more employees for the Democrats’ bill, that would cover firms with more than 14 employees.

It was similar to other amendments previously offered that had been coordinated by GOP leaders. McMillan’s amendment got little support from fellow Republicans, and failed easily in a voice vote, without even a recorded roll call that had rejected the other amendments.

Consultants Convicted

An Annapolis District Court judge found the campaign manager and a consultant for Republican Anne Arundel County Councilmember Michael Peroutka guilty of making an illegal anonymous robocall against Peroutka’s opponent in 2014.

The judge handed out a fine and jail time for the two Virginia men, a harsher sentence than the prosecutor recommended. Their attorneys said they would appeal the verdict.

The phone call tied Democrat Patrick Armstrong, who is openly gay, to a bill granting transgender “bathroom” rights, and asked listeners to call and thank Armstrong “for his bravery in coming out of the closet.” The robocall said it was paid for by Marylanders for Transgenders, but no such group exists.

Peroutka testified at the trial that he had no knowledge of the call. After the trial, he issued a statement saying he regretted the robocall and, had he been aware of it, he would have tried to stop it.

“I consider the call in question to be inconsistent with Christian principles and the boundaries of civil discourse,” said Peroutka, who believes government should be based on Biblical principles. “I felt compelled, though I had nothing to do with this call, to personally apologize to Mr. Armstrong for the discomfort and inconvenience that this incident has brought to him and his family, and his many friends.”

En Espanol

Anne Arundel County has launched a new official government website in Spanish.

“Outreach to our Hispanic citizens is a major priority of our administration,” County Executive Steve Schuh said, in a statement.

The U.S. Census estimates that Hispanics and Latinos represent about 7.3% of the county population, about 41,000 people.