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County executive's proposed PGCPS takeover a 'surprise attack'

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Published on: Wednesday, March 27, 2013

By Alexis A. Goring

Recently, the community and stakeholders of Prince George’s County Public Schools learned through reading a Washington Post article that County Executive Rushern Baker is proposing a bill to take over the school system.

Washington Post journalist Ovetta Wiggins reported March 16, “The elected head of Prince George’s County is pushing for a change in law that would put him in charge of the struggling 123,000-student system.”

Under the proposal, the county executive would appoint a superintendent to be confirmed by County Council, said Christian Rhodes, education policy adviser for Baker.

“It really will allow the superintendent to be part of the executive branch and will really align all of our core services under the executive branch,” Rhodes said. “What it means for PGCPS is really an integrated school government.”

The school system and the county government have operated as two separate entities in the past, Rhodes said.

“Unfortunately, the school system has been forced to grow and expand into department and service areas that they just don’t have the expertise in doing,” he said.

Additionally, the Washington Post reported, “The elected nine-member school board would retain responsibility for academic policy and parental engagement, joined by six new members, including three ex officio representatives of higher education.”

The bill has been likened to that of the Washington, D.C., school district takeover by former Mayor Adrian Fenty, and the bill already has been accused of falling short of the needs of PGCPS.

“This is a bad bill that is being pushed through the legislature under the guise of education reform and without the benefit of a public hearing,” said a representative from PGCPS Office of Communications in a statement released on March 22. “The public’s voice will not be heard. Our students, teachers and employees will have no say in this decision. Mr. Baker’s proposal reduces public oversight of schools and voids the rights of our parents, students and labor unions. It also does not recognize the achievements of our students — 80 percent perform satisfactory on state-mandated assessments.”

Regarding the county executive’s plan to take control of the school system, the statement released on March 22 also stated, “If Mr. Baker truly wants to improve education in Prince George’s County, he should start by helping to promote more parental engagement. He should also help by finding funds to attract and retain our teachers. Our youth should not be used as political gambling chips. They are our hope for tomorrow. This bill undermines the progress our students are making. It places our schools in an untenable situation. Mr. Baker’s proposal is an unnecessary distraction that gambles away the future of our children.”

Verjeana M. Jacobs, chair of Prince George’s County Board of Education, spoke before the Prince George’s House Delegation on Saturday concerning this proposed takeover.

“The overwhelming majority of the Board of Education opposes this legislation for three major reasons: process, policy and precedent,” Jacobs said.

According to Jacobs, Baker’s proposal is a flawed process because it is too late to get meaningful input from parents, teachers and county voters. Eleven weeks of the General Assembly session have gone by and only two weeks remain.

“Where was this proposal in January? Why the surprise attack? If this is a good idea, why not follow the rules requiring House and Senate hearings as well as a hearing in Prince George’s County?” Jacobs asked. “These changes to the operation of our children’s educational system are a much too important decision to be made in such a shortened period of time without meaningful public input and thoughtful dialogue.”

Jacobs said this is a bad policy because the Board of Education is unaware of any community in the country where the model proposed by Baker has been successfully implemented.

“There is an entire section of the bill (4-402) that would hold the Board of Education, not the superintendent, responsible for academic achievement of the students,” Jacobs said. “How can you hold the members of the Board of Education responsible when they will not be responsible for hiring the superintendent or his staff or professional assistants? And if the board is the only entity responsible for academic achievement, what is the superintendent responsible for in this scenario?”

Finally, Jacobs said the proposal is a bad precedent because there are many issues and views to consider and very difficult decisions that must be made.

“I assure you that our work is not easy. Our school system, however, has been transparent and open to public feedback on every major decision we have made, like our current search for a new superintendent of schools,” she said.

The General Assembly ends its legislative session on April 8. According to Rhodes, Baker’s goal is to pass legislation that would allow this to go into effect June 3 at the earliest.

“The goal is to pass legislation by the end of this legislative session and if not successful, the county executive will re-open the search to make sure we have the right person for the job,” Rhodes said.

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