For immediate release:
February 18, 2016

Hannah Marr
Shareese Churchill

In Case You Missed It:

Legislature Should Keep Its Hands Off The State Superintendent Search

From The Baltimore Sun

Editorial Board – “There is simply no reason to short circuit the board’s search for the best candidate possible to lead Maryland’s schools and no reason to change a process that has produced excellent results for a century.”


The Baltimore Sun
Editorial Board
February 18, 2016

“The ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ award for the 2016 Maryland General Assembly Session clearly goes to House Bill 570/Senate Bill 404: State Board of Education — State Superintendent of Schools — Appointment. In a nutshell, it seeks to monkey with a century-old process that has produced one of the top school systems in the country for no discernible reason.

“Well, that’s not exactly true. The bill’s sponsors have provided rationales for the idea that the state school board’s choice for a new superintendent should be subject to confirmation by the Senate. They just don’t make much sense.

“Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Prince George’s County Democrat and the lead sponsor in the Senate, testified at a hearing on the bill that the legislation was necessary to add stability to the state Department of Education. ‘We are currently in a period where the State Board of Education is seeking a new superintendent,’ he said by way of introducing the bill. ‘It’ll be the fourth superintendent in five years, six years — I’m not sure what it’s been. I’m not sure if the turnover is because of or in spite of the board’s structure.’

“Turnover? We’ll admit that the tenure of the most recent superintendent, Lillian Lowery, was short by Maryland standards at three years. But that’s only because of the extraordinary longevity of her predecessors. …

“Since the current method of selecting superintendents was enacted in 1916, seven people have held the job. (Mr. Pinsky is counting interim superintendents who served between Ms. Grasmick and Ms. Lowery and the one holding down the seat now while the board searches for a new, permanent appointee.)

“Del. Anne Kaiser, a Montgomery County Democrat and lead House sponsor, called the bill a ‘good government’ measure, but it’s actually anything but. First, it arbitrarily compresses the amount of time the board may take to find the best candidate for the job — the bill is drafted as emergency legislation and would force the state board to select someone by April 1, months earlier than the current process would dictate. And second, it injects politics in a system explicitly designed to avoid it. …

“In Maryland, by contrast, the governor appoints school board members who are then confirmed by the Senate. Furthermore, their terms are staggered so that the ability of a new governor to influence the process is limited — a lesson learned by former Gov. Martin O’Malley when, early in his first term, he wanted to get rid of Ms. Grasmick. …

“In the nation, the only state where a superintendent selected by a board of education requires senate confirmation is an inapt model for two reasons. First, the board in that case is not confirmed by the state senate, and second, the state in question is Mississippi, not exactly a place Maryland has traditionally sought to emulate when it comes to education.

“Why the sudden urgency on behalf of lawmakers to inject themselves into the process? Here’s guessing it has to do with the occupant of Government House, the Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, and the unanticipated consequences of Democrats’ inexplicable decision to move the 2014 gubernatorial primary to June. The state constitution says a lame duck governor can’t make appointments after the primary election, but seats on the state school board (and many local ones) turn over on July 1. Thus, moving the primary to June meant that Mr. O’Malley couldn’t fill the seats that became vacant in 2014, leaving the task to Mr. Hogan — and giving him more influence over the board than he otherwise would have had at this point in his term.

“If legislators think Mr. Hogan’s nominees to the school board are ill qualified or too ideological to select a superintendent who will maintain Maryland’s educational standards, they should refuse to confirm them. Those the governor appointed last summer are still pending before the Senate Executive Nominations Committee. Moreover, Mr. Hogan’s appointees still are in the minority, and the entire board — including the O’Malley appointees — opposes this legislation. There is simply no reason to short circuit the board’s search for the best candidate possible to lead Maryland’s schools and no reason to change a process that has produced excellent results for a century.”