There will be a vacancy on the Frederick County school board this January, meaning there will likely be some jockeying for a chance to sit on the seven-person panel.
The opening is being created by the resignation of board Vice President Joy Schaefer, who is leaving to become Frederick County’s director of government affairs. She will replace Roger Wilson, who said he plans to work in the private sector, in addition to continuing on as a member of the Frederick Board of Aldermen.
County Executive Jan Gardner has asked the County Council to send her the names of three candidates for the open position and she will, as the county charter indicates, make the final selection of the new board member who will complete Schaefer’s term. The council will then confirm Gardner’s appointment.
This is certainly a lot better than the process that took place earlier this year, when Gardner appointed Lois Jarman to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Ken Kerr, who stepped down to serve as a state delegate.
That process lacked the transparency we would expect for such a vital position. At the time, Gardner interviewed the candidates but declined to list other applicants or finalists for the board position. Although Gardner certainly acted within the scope of her powers as executive, we think there should have been more public involvement in that selection, especially considering how important our schools are to the community and how much of our budget goes to funding them.
In fairness, Kerr’s resignation was the first for the county since the implementation of the charter and Gardner was perhaps in unchartered waters. That’s why, in the long term, we support a request from Gardner and the council to the Maryland General Assembly to permit limited special elections to fill future vacancies on the Board of Education. A replacement for a school board member — or that of any elected official — should ultimately rest with the people.
But that won’t work this time around. And while we think Gardner including the council in replacing Schaefer is a way of getting more input, we’d like to see her go a step further.
We’re suggesting that once the council makes its final selections, Gardner should host a town hall meeting where residents and others in the school community can meet the finalists and ask them questions. After the community has had a chance to weigh in, Gardner could then make her selection.
Ironically, it was something Schaefer said the other day that brought us to this line of thinking.
“A lot of folks get into politics or an elected position because they want to do something specific,” Schaefer told our reporter earlier this week. “They have an issue or a couple of issues they’re very passionate about. But the challenge of the school board is our constituents are our students, so you should be able to speak for ... almost all 44,000 of them.”
Ultimately, the public must feel comfortable with the priorities of the next school board member. Opening up a dialogue before they are put in that seat would help. We’d hope during the community meeting, Gardner would get the feedback she needs to make the smart choice.
It doesn’t get the community input the way an election would, but for now until the state Legislature approves special elections, it’s the best we can do.