Frederick County: April Miller best choice for school board vacancy

Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner will have the chance to fill a vacancy on the eight-member Frederick County Board of Education with Ken Kerr’s advancement to the House of Delegates. Those interested in serving have been invited to submit their names.

I myself am hoping that Gardner sees fit, despite party differences, to appoint incumbent April Miller to renewed service on the board, should Miller apply. The most obvious reason is at the ballot box: Miller ran fifth of eight for the four posts available, with 35,489 votes (unofficial), fewer than 2,000 votes short of what proved the cutoff. By comparison, Camden Raynor, the 20-year-old (as of September) college student who made a bid for a seat and is said to be a prospect for the vacancy appointment, received 27,701, even with the powerful endorsement of the teachers’ union (“Apple Ballot”).

The strongest reasons to support Miller, however, are substantive. To begin with, she has done a fine job on the board over her two terms, winning praise for constructive engagement even from board members with different priorities. Like colleague Elizabeth Barrett, sometimes seen as her opposite number on the board, Miller is known for thinking for herself and asking uncomfortable questions.

The wider question is whether it is a healthy development, in a county where conservatives make up around half the electorate, to wind up with a school board with no conservatives on it at all. The alternative is one consisting pretty much exclusively of present or past Apple Ballot endorsees. (The union declined to endorse Barrett this time around; she won anyway.) On many issues, absent Miller, there will be no voice raised in dissent, no one to ask certain types of questions or frame objections. In short, there will be a shortage along a very relevant dimension of ideological diversity.

Though nominally non-partisan the school board is all but partisan in practice, so this means asking CE Gardner, a Democrat, to overlook party lines and appoint a known Republican. On the other hand, that’s the sort of thing successful managers do: Gov. Larry Hogan has appointed Democrats to many high posts, part of the centrist appeal that has enabled him to win over Democratic moderates. At a moment where eager Democrats are no doubt applying for the spot, it might take a magnificent gesture on Gardner’s part. But it’s one we could use right about now.

More: Tom Neumark letter to the editor in the FNP.

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