Bill Requiring Senate Confirmation for State Superintendent Moves Forward, Despite Skepticism

Del. Alonzo T. Washington (D-Prince George’s) is sponsoring legislation that would reform the appointment process for state superintendent of schools. File photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

A proposed emergency bill that would require Senate confirmation for the state superintendent of schools has raised the eyebrows of the State Board of Education members, as well as Republican lawmakers.

The state superintendent serves a four-year term and is currently appointed by the State Board of Education with no input from the legislature. There’s an ongoing search for the next state superintendent.

Some lawmakers think there should be more oversight.

Nearly one-quarter of Maryland’s budget is allocated for education, which is the largest portion of the state budget, the bill’s sponsor, Del. Alonzo T. Washington (D-Prince George’s), said in a committee hearing earlier this month. “It’s crucial that we have checks and balances to make sure that no one branch of government has too much say in how the money is spent,” he said.

House Bill 465 would also prohibit those who have been board members in the year immediately preceding the appointment to be nominated for state superintendent.

“Current members of board of education can influence other members to select them as superintendent when the position opens up,” Washington said. Members of the state board are appointed, not elected, so Marylanders have very little say in how board members and superintendent are selected, he continued.

An iteration of this legislation was introduced by House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery) and passed the House last session. The measure crossed over to the Senate just as lawmakers were rushing to adjourn as the COVID-19 pandemic spread to Maryland.

Washington’s bill was met with pushback from current board members and Republican leaders on Tuesday.

Jean Halle, vice president of the state school board, said she is concerned that the bill may affect the current search to replace State Superintendent Karen B. Salmon, who plans to step down this July.

Salmon did not intend to serve this year as superintendent, but the board unanimously voted to extend her contract last March in response to the pandemic. Last month, the board is announced that it was beginning its search for Salmon’s successor.

Other board members found the proposed legislation “strange and anomalous.” It might preclude good candidates from serving on the board if they were planning on competing for the state superintendent position, Rose Maria Li said. “I really take issue with the point about this bill [that] bans a current member or a member from the previous year serving as a state superintendent. It just sounds so petty,” she said.

Board members Shawn Bartley and Joan Mele-McCarthy agreed. “It seems that there are a lot of idiosyncratic vendettas that are included in this legislation, and I just worry that it will get in the way of solid, innovative child-focused board work,” Mele-McCarthy said.

Meanwhile on the floor Tuesday, House Minority Leader Kathy Szeliga (R-Harford and Baltimore County) echoed that she did not see the purpose of this legislation.

“It seems like if someone is serving on the state board and they’re doing a good job, you’re cutting them out of the opportunity to be state superintendent, while in the meantime, we’re doing a candidate search across the country to find someone who is not from here,” she said.

The one-year grace period required in the bill would give some time to resolve any ethical issues that may arise by appointing former board members, Washington said.

The bill received initial approval in the House on Tuesday morning, and could come up for a final vote later this week. There is no Senate crossfile.

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