OCEAN CITY – County residents spoke out last week on whether Wicomico’s school board members should be elected or remain appointed by the governor.
Earlier this month, the Wicomico County Council voted in favor of holding a “straw ballot” asking residents to vote next November for either an elected school board or one appointed by the governor.
The results of the ballot will be for information only and will have no legal impact. Results from the ballot will give legislators a better understanding of the opinion of the county at large and could lead to a transition from an appointed to an elected board if the public supports the move.
“This is a long-term issue,” resident Kay Gibson said. “I would like to see the citizens of Wicomico County have the opportunity to choose whether they have an elected school board or continue with the appointed school board.”
George Wooley voiced his concern on whether an elected school board would remain nonpartisan as time moves on. He stated that elected boards tend to gravitate toward a particular party. Furthermore individuals with a particular party interest can foster support toward a certain party’s interest and issues.
“The bottom line here is money talks even in a nonpartisan election,” Wooley said. “Now I understand the council is proposing a nonpartisan elected board but I am supposed to understand that there is no mechanism to prevent the board from becoming partisan.”
Wooley recommended the council support a hybrid school board where some members would be appointed while others are elected.
“I would know we have a mechanism that would prevent the board from gravitating toward the interest of one and only one party,” Wooley said.
A retired federal employee, Sandra Martin, said she is in support of school board members being appointed.
“I haven’t heard why we need a change,” she said. “As it is now, it seems to be working.”
Council President Gail Bartkovich explained that one of the main issues of an appointed school board is the residents have little say on the name sent forward to the governor to be appointed. She explained the Republican and Democratic Central Committees are responsible for nominating school board members.
“There has been past experiences where they have sent forward the preference of the central committee and it has not been honored,” Bartokovich said. “… They should be elected by the voters who contribute those property tax dollars of the board’s budget.”
The next speaker was John Palmer, who stood in favor of an elected school board.
“I know that the closer the government is to the people the better representation that we have for the people,” he said. “I really don’t understand why people would want to fight that.”
Parent and PTA member Jamie Day expressed her and other parents’ concerns over the transparency of the current school board.
“We stand with you in taking the politics out of education and voice the concerns of parents, staff, and the community,” Day said. “We want to thank you in giving us the access to the process of change as this access is the accountability that concerned citizens are seeking and value so very greatly.”
Council Vice President Joe Holloway said Day’s concerns reflect why a change is needed.
“I don’t think with an elected school board you would have that issue,” he said. “I think the people that took the time to run and care about what they were doing, whether they were Republican or Democratic, they would be interested in hearing the concerns of the parents.”