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Opponents of Prince George’s school-governance reform voice concerns

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Published on: Wednesday, June 05, 2013

By Tauren Dyson

On May 22, the District IV Roundtable Community Coffee Roundtable discussed an issue on the minds of many Prince George’s residents — school takeover.

The HB 1107 bill, which many expressed concern that it gives County Executive Rushern Baker overreaching control of public schools, usurps the authority of the democratically elected Board of Education.

“Stability is one of the concerns that we have,” said Janis Hagey, co-chair for Citizens for an Elected Board, a protest group fighting to have HB 1107 put up for referendum. “The fact that we don’t have a consistent governance structure … it impacts education policy, funding, and therefore what goes on in the classrooms.”

While Hagey admits that governance structure has no direct bearing on student’s classroom performance, she said it does disrupt the school system’s continuity, which could have negative effects on students, such as low test scores.

Hagey also said that mixing politics with the school system sets a bad precedent that could create a conflict of interest.

“If there is an edict that comes out of the county … then we’ve got four appointed folks that may not necessarily agree with the policy, but owe their allegiance to the county executive,” Hagey continued.

The new bill gives the county executive power to appoint three new board members and allows him to appoint the board’s chair and co-chair. He will also chose the school system’s new CEO, formerly the superintendent.

Additionally, the Prince George’s County Council will select a board member, giving the body a total of 13 members.

Although the formal process to apply for one of the four new board seats has passed, Hagey said 160 residents have applied for positions.

Citizens for an Elected Board and other protest groups hoped to delay the bill from taking effect on June 1. They hoped to gather 8,000 signatures to give them time to collect the 24,000 signatures needed by June 30 to push the bill to a November referendum.

Not all Prince George’s residents oppose the HB 1107. Tanya Lawson has a son who attends Oxon Hill High School, and she is the school’s PTSA president. She said the school system’s lagging test scores and overall underperformance compared to the rest of the state are good reasons for Baker to shake up the system.

“We had low confidence in the school board members to effectively run the school the school system,” Lawson said. “He is trying to find people who were qualified business owners and had skill sets in education — overall skill sets that were missing on the board.”

While Hagey said the takeover strips country residents of the ability to democratically elect board members, she is not inflexible on the issue. She said if the county executive was open to receiving community input, she would be eager to renegotiate some of the conditions of HB 1107.

“The referendum can be negated if we get some agreement on the public’s voice,” Hagey said. “There has to be a negotiation with the community and not a dictatorship.”

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