Millions of Marylanders voted in the 2022 election, electing the state’s first Black governor. Baltimore City had an electoral first, too: the election of two Board of School Commissioners, Ashley Esposito and Kwame Kenyatta-Bey. Prior to this election, Baltimore City had an appointed board for 124 years, the longest of any jurisdiction in Maryland.
Baltimore remains the only jurisdiction that fails to compensate its adult or student school board members. Anne Arundel, Howard, Montgomery, and Prince George’s counties all compensate their adult members, and some offer scholarships to their respective student members. Even Somerset County, a jurisdiction with a poverty rate similar to Baltimore’s, offers some compensation to its commissioners. This stands in stark contrast to Baltimore City, which continues to rely on the volunteer labor of adults and young people to govern a complex, billion-dollar organization.
While every other Maryland jurisdiction has a wholly or majority-elected school board, Baltimore City’s residents elect just two individuals to serve on its 11-member board; the remaining nine members are appointed. While the appointment of the student member of the board will be updated — thanks to legislation sponsored by Senator Jill P. Carter and Delegate Melissa Wells this session — the process for appointing the supermajority of members (last updated in 2017) remains an antidemocratic one in which power rests with Mayor Brandon Scott rather than the citizens of the city.
While other large jurisdictions (for example, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, and Howard counties) specify the date a commissioner assumes office in statute (typically the first Monday in December for adult members and July 1 for student members), the law governing Baltimore City’s appointments does not. Our statute fails to set a date for elected and appointed commissioners to begin serving their term, fails to outline the procedures by which vacancies are filled, and fails to place the very appointments process under any city agency.
Almost immediately, problems with the vague statute were evident. A 2018 opinion of the Open Meetings Act Compliance Board found that the Community Panel, created to recommend school board appointees to the mayor, violated the Open Meetings Act. The opinion noted that “This matter illustrates the problems that arise when a statute or order creates a temporary advisory board without either placing it within a larger entity or assigning it staff….[T]he statute leaves unclear, at best, whether the Panel exists as an ongoing public body with ongoing members.” However, no subsequent legislation was introduced to remedy the deficiencies.
Three consecutive mayoral administrations, those of Catherine Pugh, Bernard “Jack” Young, and Scott, have declined to support legislative remedies for what is an opaque and ad hoc process. For example, under former Mayor Pugh, Commissioner Andy Frank’s term ended on June 30, 2017, but he continued serving for more than a year until he was retroactively reappointed on September 5, 2018. Commissioner Dr. Durryle Brooks was appointed in a letter from Pugh in September 2018 but was not sworn in until August 2019 by her successor, Mayor Young. Commissioner James Hassan’s second and final term ended June 2020, but she continued to serve for two additional years — half of a full term — until Mayor Scott appointed Commissioner Robert Salley in February 2022. Applications to replace Commissioner Michelle Harris Bondima, whose term had ended in June 2021, did not open until April 2022, and a replacement was not selected until August 2022.
When vacancies do arise, the Mayor’s Office of Child and Family Success has been slow to post notices and agendas for candidate interviews. And although candidates were interviewed virtually, MOCFS has declined to post videos of the candidates, offering instead only very brief — and, in our opinion, incomplete — meeting minutes posted more than a month after the sessions concluded.
The Baltimore City School Board has the power to adopt policies that affect nearly 80,000 children and their families — from grading to zoning to curriculum to school closures to the operating budget. The Mayor’s Office must stop treating the appointments process as an assignment for which there is an endless supply of extensions and instead act with all urgency and care by selecting the candidates ranked most highly by the nominating Community Panel or explaining why he chose a lower performing candidate. With the implementation of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future upon us, it is incumbent on the mayor to transparently select diverse candidates with deep expertise, including expertise drawn from lived experience, to govern our school system.
Unfortunately, Mayor Scott has failed to honor Candidate Scott’s words during the campaign: “I commit to a fully transparent selection process for any appointed seats.”
As such, we — VOTES (VOices Towards an Elected School Board), a coalition of parents, caregivers, educators, young people, and community organizations — call upon our city delegation to begin drafting legislation that would repeal the current process and replace it with the same privilege granted every other jurisdiction in the state: the ability to select a majority of our school board members in a regular, transparent process, more commonly and simply known as an election.
A collection of organizations and individuals, the Voices Toward an Elected School Board (VOTES) Coalition is working to pass legislation that would transform Baltimore City’s School Board into a hybrid model that is accountable to the people of the city and puts Baltimore in line with the rest of the state. They can be reached at votescoalitionbmore@gmail or twitter.com/VOTESBaltimore.