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County executive candidates debate education, funding

princegeorges county sealLARGO – Prince George’s county executive candidates addressed issues ranging from education to food deserts during a forum hosted at Prince George’s Community College by the League of Women Voters of Prince George’s County on March 10.

Prince George’s County state’s attorney Angela Alsobrooks, educator Billy Bridges, former congresswoman Donna Edwards, former Maryland housing director Tommie Thompson and activist Jerry Mathis participated in the forum. Former Maryland lieutenant governor Sam Bogley, former Obama administration official Paul Monteiro, state Sen. Anthony Muse and political neophytes Lewis Johnson and Michael Kennedy were invited but did not attend.

Every candidate except Mathis, who is a registered Republican, is a Democrat.

Moderator Tammie Norman, the election forums co-chair of the county’s League of Women Voters, asked the candidates to explain how they would raise salaries for teachers, support staff, crossing guards and community college workers.

Each candidate described a structural problem in county governance that has resulted in some staff members not receiving warranted raises. Mathis said, “everybody that deserves money will get the money, as long as they become an engine and the power that motivates and moves this county.”

Alsobrooks said, “not just teachers and administrators but also means every person who interfaces with our young people has to be our priority…we must continue to fund our priorities.”

Edwards likewise said much of the county’s budget is spent “at the top and not with the people who impact our students every single day,” such as teachers and bus drivers. “We have the money to do this, and we need new leadership at the top of the school board to do that.”

Continuing the focus on education, Norman queried the participants about their opinions on the current structure of the school board, which is a hybrid of appointed and elected officials.

Alsobrooks, Bridges, Edwards, and Thompson said they favor an elected school board.

Mathis said, “The question is not what kind of structure should we have…the point is we must take charge of our system,” he said. “We need more community input, and we need to look at the real problem. The real problem is Maryland. It’s the state.”

When asked how they would expand county services for senior citizens and people with disabilities, Edwards, Mathis, and Thompson spoke about improving local public transportation to benefit these populations. Alsobrooks discussed the need for more affordable housing for seniors and resources for caregivers.

In response to a question on food deserts in the county, Mathis and Thompson focused on supporting local food banks.

“There are some places in this county where the food banks are running dry,” Mathis said. “There is an issue. Sometimes we’ve got to get away from looking at the symptoms and look at the real problem. We have a lot of poverty in this county.”

Bridges advocated for more mobile health education, while Alsobrooks said communities need local businesses and farmers markets to provide fresh fruit.

During the forum, the candidates described what initiatives they would establish to support small businesses.

Edwards said the county should reform its procurement services practices.

“We decouple contracts, and we break them up so that some of our small businesses can compete for them, so we make sure we’re not continuing to give the same contracts to the same people generation after generation,” she said.

Bridges said he wants to improve the county’s outreach to small business owners to inform them about resources already exist for them in Prince George’s.

The primary election is June 26.

 

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