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Bill would institute wards in Board of Education elections

February 07, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, is reviving a failed attempt to possibly change how the Washington County Board of Education is elected.

Last year, school board members objected to his proposal of a task force to look at switching from an at-large board to one with members representing districts.

Shank said the school board's opposition helped kill the task force bill in the House Ways and Means Committee.

The school board hasn't seen the new proposal and has no opinion yet, President Roxanne Ober said after Tuesday's board meeting.

Shank believes a ward system promotes accountability.

"You get better representation when you have a set group of constituents that you are responsible to in a defined geographic area," he said.

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Washington County has grown too much to keep an at-large school board, he said.

Washington County's commissioners and Hagerstown's city council are elected at large. State delegates and senators, however, are chosen by districts.

Most of the school board's seven members live in Hagerstown.

Last year, Shank said constituents in Boonsboro pushed for the change because they didn't think they were being represented well.

Washington County Commissioners President John F. Barr, a Republican elected in November, said he had mixed feelings about the proposal.

On one hand, he said, it could limit the number of people qualified to serve on the school board. At the same time, though, it could spark more people connected to their local schools to run for the board.

This year's bill has an added twist: a referendum that could start the process.

The public would be asked whether to set up a task force with 21 voting members.

The task force would include representatives from the county commissioners, the school board, the school system, PTAs and a citizens advisory council.

The task force, if approved, would hold public hearings and recommend a new system to the delegation and the commissioners.

Shank said the task force would decide what to pick, including, possibly, an at-large/geographic mix.

"Everything's on the table," he said.

The Washington County delegation is scheduled to discuss the new version of the bill this morning. It's unknown if the delegation also will vote on the idea today.

Staff writer Erin Cunningham contributed to this story.

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