By: Dustyn Thompson
December 12, 2017
Legislation put forward today by Representative Paul Baumbach is stirring up quite a bit of controversy on an already chaotic scene. Recently, there has been a disagreement on the future of the Christina School District, specifically with regard to the schools within the City of Wilmington. Governor Carney’s office and the Governor himself has clashed with some of the Christina School Board members on more than one occasion. The disagreement mainly surrounds the issue of what needs to be done to ensure a better, more effective learning environment for the children of Wilmington.
You can read more from Delaware Online about the battle between these two entities here.
Regardless of where you fall on this issue, perhaps a majority of the suspicion surrounding Representative Baumbach’s legislation stems from the timing of its filing aligning with the disagreement surrounding the Christina Proposal. When asked about the timing Representative Baumbach pointed out that he has been trying to reform the school boards in Delaware for a number of legislative sessions, and has been met with refusals every time. He went on to say that the Christina Proposal could be in play for months, and that he did not want to sit on his hands and wait, and thereby miss the December pre-file dates for the upcoming session.
This does not change the optics of the scenario, which has led to several people in the education community coming out against the legislation. A number of online rebuttals have viewed this legislation as a way to go after Christina School Board Member John Young, for his public disagreements with the Christina Proposal. However, Representative Baumbach points out that this legislation was drafted in May and finalized in June earlier this year a fact that was confirmed as the date is on the legislation in the bottom right corner. Showing that this legislation was put together long before the Christina Proposal was on the table, or even in processing. The Representative from Newark has also proposed legislation that would effectively lower the term length of School Board Members to 3 years in the past, and is now suggesting 4 year terms in additional legislation that he will introduce this year.
“Right now, if a school board member gets elected, and then never shows up to any meetings, there is nothing that anyone can do to get rid of that person for another five years,” Representative Baumbach stated when questioned about the intent of this legislation. He continued on to mention the case of the School Board member who was found guilty in court of using racial slurs in public within earshot of young children, and was allowed to finish her term, a full year and a half, without recourse.
A central issue with the legislation is the idea that an appointed official will be able to open the process to remove an elected official without the community of that area having a say in the process. By doing this, it is possible that the Board of Education could usurp the will of the electorate, and allow the School Board to appoint a new member at any time. This person would then serve on the board until the following election cycle (concluding in the following November post-removal), when a new election would be initiated. Even if the process finds that the School Board Member was innocent, this could be a means of casting aspersions on a troublesome Board Member’s character, making it harder for them to be re-elected. When asked about his point of view on the legislation, John Young, a Christina School Board Member, says that he is concerned that this legislation as written could be used as a means to allow political enemies to remove each other from office, and take the power away from the electorate.
It is for this reason that we urge that the process be initiated only following a petition from the community of the district in question. No appointed or elected official should be allowed a process that would circumvent the principles of a democracy. If the crimes against an elected official are so egregious that such a long term cannot be finished, then the process must be at the behest of the people, not an elected or appointed official. Furthermore, with the length of the term being the highest outside of a US Senator and the need for greater accountability, reforms should focus on increasing turnout. It has been suggested that shorter terms that coincide with midterm and presidential elections be implemented for this office. Neither of which are inherently bad ideas for the future of our children, and are certainly more akin to the type of legislation that would ensure greater accountability. As it is written, this legislation sets quite the precedence in how we will look at and handle our democracy in Delaware in the future.
Representative Baumbach has stated he is open to suggestions on how to hold the school boards accountable and to make sure that the will of the people remains at the forefront of this legislation. If you have recommendations he can be reached at Paul.firstname.lastname@example.org