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March 19, 2010

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Frank Hecker

"Appointed positions equate to political patronage" But one could also argue that elected positions equate to political pandering and special-interest tinkering. (For example, witness the various instances of right-wing school board members trying to introduce "intelligent design" into biology classes, or analogous behavior on the left-wing side.)

"Elected school board positions allow an opportunity for contrary and/or innovate ideas in education to come to the forefront." By this logic we should elect every key county position -- chiefs of police and fire departments, heads of public works and parks and recreation, and so on -- in order to "allow an opportunity for contrary and/or innovate ideas ... to come to the forefront" with respect to policing, fire prevention, recycling, parks, and so on.

But that way lies madness. The fact is that we as taxpayers are paying taxes to fund an overall set of county services, and I think it makes sense to have a single point of accountability (in the form of the county executive) for making sure those funds are spent wisely and effectively. Most voters, including me, do not have the time, energy, or background to make an informed decision on each and every elected position, which means that in practice the more secondary elected positions like school board will end up being decided by a minority of voters that is not necessarily representative of voters as a whole.

I think we should be doing away with elected school board members in Maryland counties, not moving in the other direction.

Frank Hecker

One more point: If we want innovation in education, then I suspect a more realistic approach is to put in place an overall framework by which decentralized innovation can occur at the level of individual schools, e.g., through magnet schools within the traditional public system, charter schools outside the public system, or even at the level of individual students, e.g., homeschooling options, online options (like Florida Virtual School), etc.

I think the chances of a good framework for innovation being put into place are better if it's attempted by a single elected official with an overall mandate (again, the county executive) rather than by a multi-person school board that is vulnerable to being overly-politicized, split between uncooperative factions, and micro-managing the school superintendent.

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