ANNAPOLIS — Supporting bills before the Maryland General Assembly would allow vacancies on the Frederick County Board of Education to be filled via an election rather than an appointment process.
The bills, House Bill 410 and Senate Bill 316, would allow an election if a Board of Education seat is vacated at least 30 days before the filing deadline in a year where a midterm or presidential election is being held.
During the corresponding elections that fall, the next highest vote-getter would be elected. So if four seats were up for election, the fifth-highest vote-getter would win the partial-term seat.
Local and state officials have said they don’t want to hold “one-off” elections to fill seats, because of the cost and risk of low turnout. That included County Councilman Steve McKay (R), who worked with County Executive Jan Gardner (D) to submit the proposal to the state delegation.
McKay said given the testimony he’s heard, along with the unanimous support of the delegation and support from other council members and Gardner, he’s pretty confident that the proposal will get to Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) desk.
“This is a Frederick County-only change. ... We’re talking about instituting electoral procedures that are already seen in other counties [statewide]. We’re not setting a precedent here,” McKay said.
Del. Jesse Pippy, chair of the Frederick County delegation, testified in front of the House Ways and Means Committee about the House bill on Feb. 7. Del. Jason Buckel (R-Allegany) asked if a replacement would still be appointed if a person vacated their seat a week or so after their term started.
Under the bill, the county executive would still have the power to appoint someone to fill the vacancy, until the next congressional or presidential election.
Pippy said Monday there was a “compelling argument” for the legislation, given the power the Board of Education has in K-12 school budget decisions, and controlling how much of the county’s property tax revenue is spent on local education.
“The reason for it is the school board makes tremendous decisions that impact a lot of residents in the county,” Pippy said.
Board of Education President Brad Young said Monday that he hadn’t seen the proposed bill, but he was supportive of it as long as it didn’t add any cost to the county.
Young added, however, that the appointment process provision of the bill is important, given that state law dictates four members must vote to pass any motion at a public meeting.
Currently, the board consists of seven members and one nonvoting student member. Vacancies and when board members are sick or on vacation could decrease that number, causing complications, Young said. For instance, if there were a meeting with only four members present, they would all have to vote to approve any action.
But Young was supportive of the proposal.
“Ultimately, if it can be done through the electoral process, I’m not opposed,” he said.
Pippy said tying the extra elections into electoral cycles was a common-sense approach, and the bill has a good chance of passing in the House.
“I have not heard any issues about why it wouldn’t,” he said.
Joy Schaefer, the county’s director of governmental affairs and public policy, said added costs for “one-off” elections would also result in additional costs for potential candidates. Schaefer is a former Frederick County school board member who stepped down earlier this year after being hired by the county.
The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Ron Young (D-Frederick) and Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick and Carroll), has a hearing scheduled before the Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on Feb. 18 at 1 p.m.