FORESTVILLE – Four of the six candidates for Prince George’s county executive met at the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association Headquarters for an education-related forum on Jan. 31.
Current County Executive Rushern Baker, III is term-limited. In this heavily Democratic county, the winner of the June primary typically becomes the county executive.
Prince George’s County state’s attorney Angela Alsobrooks, former Congresswoman Donna Edwards, former Obama administration official Paul Monteiro and State Sen. Anthony Muse (D-26) attended. Candidates Lewis Johnson and Jonathan White were invited but did not attend. White has since withdrawn from the race.
Tammie Norman, the election forums co-chair of the League of Women Voters of Prince George’s County, moderated the discussion. Audience members submitted questions to her throughout the evening.
Norman asked the candidates to discuss their thoughts on the current structure of the present school board, which includes elected and appointed seats, and to describe what changes they would support as county executive.
Every candidate expressed their support for an elected board, and many said they would like the board’s leadership to be selected by the board itself.
Edwards and Monteiro stressed that the board’s chief executive officer should report back to the school board.
Alsobrooks said although she supports an elected school board, she believes the problem runs deeper.
“I was here when (the board) was all appointed, I’ve been here since it was all elected, and guess what? It’s made no difference whatsoever,” Alsobrooks said. “What I would love would be to depoliticize education in Prince George’s County…it is a deeper issue that’s going to require the hard work of making sure that the educational outcomes of our children is our first priority and not the roles and positions of adults.”
The candidates were then asked to talk about how they would ameliorate understaffing in county departments.
Muse called for an attitude shift in these departments. He said the existing staff needs to be treated as if they are valued in order to “(build) up from within” by investing in appropriate training.
For Alsobrooks, the solution to making changes in staffing and improving pay for county employees lies in changing the commercial tax base.
“It is absolutely impossible to continue to do so with residential taxes,” Alsobrooks said. “It will be important to change the tax structure of this county.”
Edwards, though, said the problem is not the amount of money in the budget, but, rather, how that money is allocated.
“The question remains, then, why is it that we can’t seem to put people where they need to be, to be trained to do the jobs that they need to do, and then pay people comparably for their work?” Edwards said. “And I think that the incoming county executive – and I look forward to doing it – has to go top through bottom within our organizational structures, and obviously root out the waste, but actually move money around where it goes to the people who are really doing the work.”
Norman then asked candidates whether they would consider outsourcing transportation for Prince George’s Public Schools to save costs. They all expressed opposition to outsourcing.
The candidates also discussed how they could provide public oversight of funds from the lottery terminals in the casino in MGM National Harbor to ensure the money is applied to education. Each candidate described the importance of making sure those funds go toward the school system.
Edwards said she supports “walling (the lottery money) off,” and Monteiro and Muse advocated for a “lock-box” approach.
When asked how they would help solve overcrowding in public schools, candidates described changing relationships with developers and utilizing state and federal funds.
“What we must do to continue to demand money that are due to us from the state come here,” Alsobrooks said. “This will come as a result of being very aggressive, not only making sure that the state honors its obligations, but that the county matches and has skin in the game as well.”
Monteiro said the county could better manage funds from the state and federal government to help with education and school infrastructure if the county government were better coordinated.
“Our house is not in order, and we have to clean the house,” he said.
Muse and Edwards, on the other hand, focused on the developers roles.
“The developers have got to pay their fair share,” Muse said. “You can’t put it all on the backs of homeowners and seniors, and tell them you can get a waiver. Do away with the waivers.”
“One of the ways you make sure adequate facilities are available and that we’re meeting our obligations is that you make sure when you’re doing commercial development, when you’re negotiating with developers, they have some skin in the game, too,” Edwards said. “And it’s one of the reasons that I decided I’m not accepting money from developer community.”
The conversation also veered toward other issues, including immigration and minimum wage.
Norman asked candidates whether they would plan to continue Prince George’s status as a sanctuary county.
Monteiro said it is very important to stand with the immigrant community and Muse said, “we will not be holding people in jail for reasons we believe would help to do what Donald Trump is trying to do.”
Alsobrooks and Edwards responded to the question more explicitly.
Alsobrooks said Prince George’s County is not, in fact, a sanctuary county, but that “it ought to be.”
Edwards said Prince George’s County is “by its definition diverse,” and that “we should make sure that we are a sanctuary county and that we become a sanctuary county.”
The candidates also discussed their thoughts on a $15 minimum wage.
Monteiro said it is “an important start,” but that the conversation must continue as prices continue to rise.
Alsobrooks said the minimum wage should be $15 not only in the county, but in the whole region.
Edwards said there should be a $15 minimum wage with an index inflation, so it changes as inflation increases. She also said workers should be provided with paid sick leave, annual leave and transportation support.