Proposed bill would allow removal of school board members

DOVER — When a member of the Colonial School District Board of Education was arrested late last month for allegedly sexually abusing several minors, many Delawareans called for him to be removed from the board.

The only problem with that? As the school district noted in a release after the arrest, there’s no way to kick the accused, Ronnie Williams, off the board: Other than following a felony conviction or at the request of the governor and with the consent of a supermajority of the General Assembly, most elected officials can only be removed by voters.

Rep. Paul Baumbach hopes to change that.

Although the legislature is on break until January, the Newark Democrat announced Monday he plans to file legislation in the upcoming months to create steps to oust school board members.

“State legislators, judges and even the governor can be removed from office through an established process,” he said in a statement. “In the General Assembly, we have an ethics process that allows the chamber to censure or discipline members, in addition to removing them from office. These are not processes that should be taken lightly, but they exist as a way to ensure that someone who violates the public trust is held accountable.”

He said he is talking with many educators, parents, district officials and others to determine the best way to make the change. Such a step would likely authorize not only removal but also include less drastic options, such as a suspension.

His bill may also require would-be candidates to undergo background checks before running for office.

Referring to school boards as an “oddball elected office with such little oversight.” Rep. Baumbach noted members serve longer terms than any other elected official in the state bar its two U.S. senators. He introduced legislation earlier this year that would cut terms from five to three years.

In 2017, he drafted a bill that would have given the State Board of Education the power to expel a public school board member and created a hearing process.

“There were concerns raised about that original idea, which is why I didn’t file that bill,” he said. “But the simple fact remains that school board members are a rarity in that they are elected to five-year terms and there is no mechanism to discipline or remove for just cause, short of a felony conviction. I intend to look at various processes, both inside and outside of Delaware, and talk to different groups to create a process that is fair, flexible and appropriate.”

Rep. Baumbach aims to introduce the measure in December so it can be heard soon after lawmakers return in 2020.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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