UPPER MARLBORO – A short agenda did not keep dialogue brief at the second Prince George’s County Board of Education meeting of the school year, after the board voted against the chair to have open discussion on new business items.
The meeting last Thursday was rather quick, as the only item of substance on the voting agenda was a charter combination and renewal for Chesapeake Math and IT schools. The charter was passed after a long conversation about equity across socioeconomic classes and in the area of special education.
“Its incumbent upon you to be sure that you have a strong representation of parents from throughout our county who are applying into your lottery as early as possible,” Boardmember Curtis Valentine said. “You (should) work as hard as you can to ensure you are getting out into our community, to ensure that you have as many people from our community from all throughout the county, particularly those in high poverty.”
However, despite a lengthy debate over the advertisement methods of charter schools and if they are reaching underserved communities, the board also continued its frequent debate over board policies and Robert’s Rules of Order - the rules of parliamentary debate that guide governing bodies.
The rules of order and how they mesh with the Prince George’s education board’s own policies have often been a flashpoint as the board proceeds with its usual business. On several occasions, Board Chair Segun Eubanks and longtime Boardmember Edward Burroughs, III, have gone head-to-head in debates over what the board can and cannot debate.
In board meetings, the members abide by the chair’s ruling. That, however, does not mean a member cannot vote to overrule the chair’s decision. That was the case at the Sept. 7 meeting after Eubanks had ruled that “first readers” should not be discussed after Boardmember Raaheela Ahmed asked to separate the first reader agenda items for discussion.
“These are first reader items that are noted to come for discussion at the next meeting. So they are only here to (notify) that we will have discussion,” Eubanks said. “The first readers’ intent is to give notice and not discuss.”
He further explained his ruling by stating the school board has veered off course as of late and has not been as efficient as he would like. Part of the issue is, he believes, a doubling of the debate by discussing items both as first and second readers.
“I’m trying to keep us to the proper process,” he said.
The board counsel agreed with Eubanks, saying Roberts Rules would not apply when the board has its own policy on the matter. That policy, Bylaw 9360, states “an item appearing on the published agenda for the first time constitutes a first reader for public notice of intended action.”
However, Burroughs quickly pointed out the bylaw goes on to state that first readers may “be the subject of presentation by the administration or discussion by the members of the board.”
“The policy does not say there is no discussion. In fact, it says the opposite,” Burroughs said. “There are times where we might not, but the policy says that we can if we choose to.”
Still, board counsel said the chair made a ruling and Eubanks reemphasized that the board would have to pass a motion to overrule the policy.
Burroughs then moved to overrule the chair and was quickly seconded by Ahmed.
“This is our work. Our work is to discuss the special education staffing plan, our work is to discuss the (capital improvements plan),” he said. “The reason why discussion during first reader is important is because during second reader, we’re scheduled for a vote – an up or down vote – and it’s beneficial to the board that we flesh out any concerns or things or questions in a public setting.”
The boardmember continued on to say that other board members could not benefit and the public could not benefit from private discussions about potential questions that would occur through emails or “offline” between board members and the administration outside of the meeting setting.
The board voted nine-to-four to overrule the chair and continued on to discuss the three items on first reader, which included a special education staffing plan, the capital improvements plan for the next fiscal year, and the next fiscal year’s comprehensive maintenance plan.