Prince George’s Schools Leaders Must Be Accountable to Voters, Not Politicians

Image 2-20-16 at 4.28 PMThe following is written testimony presented to the Prince George’s County Delegation of the Maryland General ASsembly. Lori Morrow is a current member of the PGCPS Board of Education Parent and Community Advisory Council mentioned on Page 17 of the House Bill 1107 (HB 1107) Final Report. All opinions expressed in this testimony are the author’s own.

by Lori Morrow

I submit this testimony in support of bill PG 509-18, to restore the Board of Education’s authority to select its own chair and vice chair and appoint the CEO. In addition, I support the repeal of HB1107 and the return to an elected school board in Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) via bill PG 511-18.

I have reviewed the House Bill 1107 Final Report, and do not discount the many programs and initiatives that have been implemented in PGCPS these past few years. Unfortunately the positives have been significantly overshadowed by the challenges: the loss of the Head Start grant; the Judge Sylvania Woods incident; the subsequent administrative leave debacle; and the graduation rate audits. The report does not provide adequate support to show that the current governance structure has had a positive impact on PGCPS. Instead I have heard the exact opposite from many parents and community members. There is an overwhelming sense that the system is failing in terms of transparency and accountability because PGCPS leadership is responsible to county politicians instead of residents.

Regardless of original intention, the current structure and concentration of power in the office of the county executive serves as a political distraction that prevents our system from moving forward. Board members who were appointed or elected with the support of the county executive are viewed as beholden to the county government and not fully trusted. Board members elected without the support of the county executive are labeled as rebels or dissidents, and marginalized in the operations of the school board. In either case, the power of the individual county residents has been diluted.

The June 2017 resignation letter submitted by Dr. Beverly Anderson, an appointed member of the Board of Education, reflected many of my own observations: “We have a dysfunctional board possibly because too many of the members are compromised or have conflicts of interest; an angry student body because we have not figured out how to incorporate some of their good ideas into our practices; unhappy parents because we do not solve in an efficient manner classroom or administrative problems impacting their children; and an apathetic teaching force. This scenario must change!”

We need a non-partisan school system with checks and balances designed to prevent an abuse of power. Restoring the faith and trust of the Prince George’s community is paramount, and I don’t believe it can happen if the HB1107 governance is allowed to remain in place. We need to reestablish the authority and power of an elected Board of Education for PGCPS. To this end, I support passage of PG 509-18 and PG 511-18.

4 thoughts on “Prince George’s Schools Leaders Must Be Accountable to Voters, Not Politicians

  1. Rosalind Johnson says:

    I sent this testimony to the Ways and Means Committee where the hearings are held. I am in complete support for the repeal on HB1107.
    ———–
    I wish to express my support for repealing HB1107.
    Since the legislation was enacted, the local board of education has been stripped of any authority to actually oversee and advocate for student achievement improvement. The “CEO” HAS THE ONLY AUTHORITY and he has no accountability for his decisions even when they are failures. The exploded “administration” has provided increased highly paid PGCPS employees and there is no data which shows that the large increase in administration has any relationship to improved student achievement; in fact student achievement has shown little “district-wide” improvement-See MSDE Data.

    When PGCPS lost federal funding for the Head Start Program, the parents and the taxpayers did not receive any credible rationale for this major loss. The “CEO” just started another program for our most vulnerable children despite the fact that the existing budget had no funding category. The “graduation scandal”gave another black eye to PGCPS. The student “sex abuse scandal” had our county reeling and parents were worried if their young children were safe?

    Again, the answer was more of the same: “I have designated more training for “staff”. NEVER, was there accountability for the “CEO”. The Board of education could only ask questions and accept the terrible issues that continued to arise.

    The County Executive touted the hiring of the “CEO” and continued to support him even though there were issues about the achievement gap of African-American students in the Maryland School District from which the “CEO” was hired. Clearly the County Executive did not properly nor thoroughly vet the candidate to become the “CEO” OF PGCPS.

    As a lifelong citizen of Prince George’s County, and a 35-year teacher in PGCPS, and a member of the Board of Education for 6 years, I say it is time for the “failed experiment of HB1107” must be ended.

    Sincerely
    Rosalind A. Johnson -Greenbelt,MD

    Liked by 1 person

  2. T. Carter Ross says:

    If HB1107 is repealed, it will be the fifth change in the structure of our school board over the past 15 years. We have had three variations of elected boards, an all appointed board, and the current a hybrid elected-appointed board. During that same time frame, we’ve had seven superintendents.

    The dysfunction of the hybrid BoE seems related more to a continued power struggle over the structure of the board, rather than a willingness to focus on the needs of our students and good governance of the school system.

    The argument that appointed BoE members are accountable to politicians, not voters, elides over the fact that the county executive and county council members who make the appointments are themselves accountable to voters. And it is those elected officials that direct a substantial amount of PGCPS’s funding … they should be held accountable for what is happening with our schools and should be responsive to voters’ concerns and needs.

    It may be that HB1107 should be repealed — and the coming change in county executive and council structure does make me nervous about what it could mean for the Board of Education and our schools — but the current effort seems to focus on getting rid of what we have now and not on what will replace it. It’s all well and good to say that an all-elected board will be better for students, but no-one is articulating what that all-elected board will prioritize, how they will achieve those goals, and why they cannot do that with the current hybrid structure.

    As a parent of two PGCPS students, actively engaged for nearly a decade now, I really want to see our school system live up to its promise; however, I am not convinced that the structure of the board in and of itself is at the root of our problems. This doesn’t mean that I don’t hold concerns about Dr. Maxwell’s oversight of the school system or the high-profile black eyes PGCPS has suffered over the past five years. However, I do think that opposition to the board structure has amplified some of the problems — in particular the concerns about credit recovery and graduation — unfairly or out of proportion. I would also say that I do support PG 507-18 (HB0186) and believe having the vice chair elected by BoE members would improve the functioning of the current board, as would allowing a simple majority to overturn some of the CEO’s actions.

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    • L Morrow says:

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I agree that stability is important, along with holding our state and county representatives accountable in this process. The hybrid board structure wouldn’t bother me so much by itself. Rather it is the power imbalance when so much control is held by the County Executive alone: appointing 25% of the Board; choosing the Chair/Vice Chair; selecting the CEO; and appointing Board Members to any elected BOE vacancies. Combined with the diminished authority of the Board and the partisan politics in BOE elections , I find it hard to believe that we have a balanced system deserving of our full faith and trust. In 2013, HB1107 was passed in a way that did not provide for significant public input or transparency. After 4.5 years, I just don’t believe we’ve gotten the results that justify continuing “as is”. The General Assembly has many options in front of them. I hope that they choose a structure that creates better checks and balances.

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