ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Martin O’Malley’s suggestion that he and county executives be allowed to appoint their school superintendents drew a mixed reaction Friday, including this from Sen. Paul Pinsky: Be careful what you wish for.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” said Pinsky, a Prince George’s County Democrat who chairs a Senate subcommittee on education.
“The governor can run education policy and say how he thinks it should happen. This makes it makes it less independent,” Pinsky said. “Depending on the governor, it would be a mixed blessing.”
Pinsky was responding to O’Malley’s comments Thursday to WYPR radio host Marc Steiner, who asked the governor about his relationship with state school Superintendent Nancy Grasmick.
O’Malley, who said he will be looking for a new supertintendent to replace Grasmick after her current appointment expires, also said that he should be allowed to appoint the superintendent, not the school board.
“In the name of improving public education, we separated the school superintendents from the elected officials that the public holds accountable, and I think that’s a mistake,” O’Malley said.
He said that if elected officials — the governor and county executives — selected the superintendents, voters could hold the executives accountable for school performance.
“I think people should hold the governor responsible for (the state superintendent’s) performance,” he said.
But some PTA leaders worried Friday about giving county executives such authority.
The county executive has “all the county to look at — the fire department, the police department, all the county employees. I’m not sure he should be taking on this, too,” said Anita Owens, president of the Anne Arundel County Council of PTAs.
But Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold agreed with the governor. If school superintendents were answerable to executives, he said, school board budget requests might be more manageable.
“Right now, they present wish-list budgets which are not reflective of the real-world fiscal realities,” he said. “The county does not print money. We cannot come up with additional money.”
If elected officials chose the superintendent, he said, “Voters can pin accountability directly on the shoulders of the county executive and council members, who have the responsibility for funding these programs. . . . they know where to pinpoint responsibility in the system.”
But Tracey McGuire, president of the Calvert County Council of PTAs, seemed content with the judgment of her county’s school board.
“Our elected board does appoint the superintendent and to the best of our judgment it’s worked out very well for us,” she said. “We’ve had the good fortune of many well-chosen superintendents.”
That was echoed by Lori Werrell, president of the St. Mary’s County Council of PTAs. She said the system in her county “works well. I would want to continue it at this point on.”
Pinsky cautioned that letting a governor appoint the superintendent might make that superintendent be more constrained in his or her pursuit of school policy. But he said the idea is “worth discussing.”
“I believe that people would be open to having that discussion,” Pinsky said. “I think that it would receive a full discussion . . . and that people would be open to receiving the arguments. I’d want to gauge it and get a sense of how it might work.”
But the Maryland Association of Boards of Education flat-out rejected the suggestion as a conflict of interest.
If a superintendent “were an employee of the governor, it would be insubordination to critically and unconditionally advocate for bigger funding as is now the system, and . . . as we did with Thornton, and as we do on an annual basis go toe to toe with the county in seeking additional support,” said John Woolums, director of government relations for the Maryland Boards of Education.
O’Malley’s office declined further comment Friday, saying the governor’s remarks “speak for themselves.”