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Testimony heard on school board bill

March 22, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - The Washington County Board of Education's vice president testified Wednesday in Annapolis against a bill to consider changing how the school board is elected.

Wayne Ridenour said that switching from an at-large format to representation by districts is unnecessary because the board serves the community well.

The Washington County delegation to the General Assembly is sponsoring the bill, which calls for a public referendum in November 2008 on whether to form a task force to study a change.

The task force would present a report to the delegation by Dec. 31, 2009, in time to put in a bill for the 2010 General Assembly session.

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Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, who proposed the bill, told the House Ways and Means Committee that Washington County has gotten larger and more diverse.

He said the referendum would let voters decide whether to keep the at-large system or choose a new one. "Let the people have a voice," he said.

Of the 17 school boards in Maryland whose members are elected, 10 use district representation entirely or in part, Shank said.

Five of the seven members of the Washington County Board of Education said at their meeting Tuesday that they're against the bill.

Board member W. Edward Forrest put his opposition in writing in a letter to Del. Sheila E. Hixson, D-Montgomery, the Ways and Means Committee chairwoman.

Forrest wrote that he is "concerned that a regionalization of the Board could encourage a partisan approach that does not presently exist and could promote 'infighting' over resources."

In his testimony, Ridenour voiced a similar complaint, recalling squabbles that surfaced when the city of Hagerstown had a ward system as he was growing up.

Last month, the delegation voted 7-1 to sponsor the bill. Del. John P. Donoghue, the delegation's only Democrat, voted no.

The delegation sponsored a similar bill last year, including the task force but without the referendum. It died in the Ways and Means Committee.

Read the bill at http://mlis.state.md.us/2007rs/billfile/hb0830.htm

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