The Delegate Atterbeary proposal to elect the Howard County School Board members envisions piggybacking on the Council Districts. The School Board is intended to be nonpartisan. Yet, the Council Districts are for the purpose of electing partisan Council Representatives. The existence of the districts are generally determined solely by the Howard County Charter. The rules for redistricting the districts are also found in the County Charter.
The redistricting process can be very political, with the Council members angling for political advantage to maintain their political power. Frank Hecker writes in detail about the history of the redistricting in 2002. A history of Howard County Council redistricting, part 23 Hecker discusses how Greg Fox had concerns about which district his Fulton home would be located. Hecker writes regarding the current Howard County Executive that “District 5 incumbent Allan Kittleman wants to move 2,707 voters from Scaggsville and elsewhere in southern Howard County from his district into District 3.” He also writes that C. Vernon Gray and current Senator Guy Guzzone “warn that they won’t stand for further changes to their districts.”
In 2022, the districts must be redistricted again after the 2020 Census. Some people will have concerns about the districts separate and distinct from those of the Council elections–they will have concerns about boundaries for the School Board elections. Will my child’s school attendance area be in District 1 or District 4? Will District 1 contain any actual high schools, or will Centennial by redistricted to District 5? Can my child’s school attendance areas be aligned with the School Board Districts? The possible concerns are numerous and perhaps endless.
The Redistricting Commission as laid out in the County Charter is composed of 3 representatives from each of the political parties and one additional person appointed by the Council. If the School Board is going to be elected by Councilmanic Districts, then the process should be made less partisan and the School Board should have some say in how the districts are determined.
The Atterbeary bill should be conditionally effective upon a Charter Amendment approved by the voters of Howard County to have politically unaffiliated members appointed by the School Board to the Redistricting Commission in number equal to that appointed by each of the political parties–currently three. This proposal will give voters of Howard County an indirect referendum on whether to change the process for electing the School Board.
The redistricting process should also be made either fully independent or more independent from the Council’s political adjustments. The Council could have the authority to reject but not amend the proposal from the Redistricting Commission. Such decisions to have a Charter Amendment are within the purview of the County Council and the voters of Howard County. However, I hope that as part of the consideration of the state legislation there will be some informal discussions with the County Council to see if they are willing to include the School Board in the redistricting process.