Ed Department Racing to Organize Teacher Elections for New Board Post

    It’s not as easy as adding chairs to the table.

    The Maryland State Board of Education faces a tight timeline when it comes to seating two new board members – a parent and a teacher – before January, officials said Tuesday.

    State Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon noted that the board may have to use emergency procedures to write regulations governing the election of the new teacher member and possibly for procurement of elections software as well.

    The terms of the two new board members are set to begin Jan. 1, 2020, under a law passed by the Maryland General Assembly in April. Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) allowed the bill to become law, but did not sign it.

    Assistant State Superintendent Sarah Spross said at a board meeting Tuesday that officials were working quickly to develop the entire framework for the elections.

    Under the new law, certified teachers who are actively teaching are eligible to run for the board. There are about 60,000 eligible teachers at public schools, plus eligible private school teachers. All people with an active Maryland teaching certificate would be eligible to vote, Spross said. That adds up to more than 133,000 potential ballots.

    The state department intends to use an online system to run the election, which will include safeguards and prevent someone from voting more than once, Spross said. The system is expected to be operational by Nov. 1, allowing for elections in December, she said.

    The Maryland State Board of Education regulations may draw from regulations used by the Maryland State Retirement and Pension System, which conducts elections for its board members, including a teacher member. Spross is meeting with representatives from the pension system and state teachers’ unions to prepare regulations.

    To avoid election results becoming invalid, the state department will vet nominees to make sure they are actively teaching and pass a criminal background check, among other requirements, officials said.

    Other questions still need answers. Salmon said the department needs to sort out how teachers will be notified of the vacancy and election, particularly if government email addresses can’t be used for political purposes. Down the road, regulations will have to consider whether master teachers – such as those envisioned by the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education – would be considered “actively teaching” and eligible as board members.

    Officials have expressed concern about the law in the past, especially when it comes to the Department of Education’s role in running an election.

    “This is not in our area of expertise. MSDE does a lot of things – run elections is not one of them. So we’re trying to figure this out,” board Chair Justin M. Hartings said Tuesday. “Obviously, the staff is making a good-faith effort and I think the board is making a good-faith effort to get this right.”

    Any regulations adopted by the board will also have to be reviewed by the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review before they are published.

    The bill requires Maryland’s governor to appoint the winner of the election among teachers. The nominee will then be subject to confirmation by the Maryland Senate.

    The parent member of the board must have a student actively enrolled in a public school. Parent members will be chosen by the governor from a list of three qualified candidates submitted by the Maryland PTA. That nominee is also subject to confirmation by the Senate.

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    Danielle E. Gaines
    Danielle Gaines most recently worked for Bethesda Beat covering Montgomery County. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at the Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.