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!”

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How the PGCPS Governance System has Changed Under HB 1107: A Before and After Comparison

Image 2-20-16 at 4.28 PMby Genevieve Demos Kelley

The governance system of Prince George’s County Public Schools was restructured in 2013 under House Bill 1107. Many people know that HB 1107 changed the structure of the Board of Education from an all-elected board to a hybrid of elected and appointed members. But there are several other features of the bill that have significantly changed the way the school system is governed.

Here’s a before-and-after table highlighting some of the changes made under HB 1107:

Before HB 1107 Under HB 1107 (Effective June 1, 2013)
Members of the school board are elected. Board is a combination of members who are elected and appointed. (Section 3-114)
Nine elected school board members, each of whom resides in a different school district; one student member of the board. Nine elected board members, one student member, and four appointed board members (three appointed by the County Executive and one appointed by the County Council). (Section 3-114)
Board needs a simple majority to pass a motion. The school board requires a two-thirds vote to take an action that is contrary to an action of the CEO. (Section 4-403)
Board members elect a chair and vice chair of the school board once a year, from among the members of the school board. The County Executive selects the chair and vice chair of the school board for a two-year term. The vice chair is appointed from among the elected members of the board. (Section 3-1004)
If a seat on the Board becomes vacant more than 180 days before the end of the term, it is filled at a special election.  If a seat held by an elected member of the Board becomes vacant, the County Executive fills the vacancy by appointment. (Section 3-1002)
The head of the school system is known as the Superintendent of schools. The superintendent is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the school system. (Section 4-101)
The school board has authority to consolidate schools. The CEO has the authority to consolidate schools. (Section 4-120)
The school board selects and appoints the superintendent of the school system.  The County Executive selects the CEO of the school system from a list of three candidates provided by a search committee. The school board then appoints the CEO after agreement on contract terms negotiated by the chair of the county board.  (Section 4-201.1)
The county superintendent is responsible for the administration of his office. The CEO is responsible for the administration of his office, including hiring and setting the salaries of the executive staff. (Section 4-204)
 The county school board shall employ individuals in the positions that the county board considers necessary for the operation of the public schools in the county. The CEO of the school system shall hire and set the salaries of a Chief Operating Officer, a Chief Financial Officer, a Chief Academic officer, a Chief of Staff, a Board Liaison, and any other necessary executive staff in the office of the CEO. (Section 6-201)

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A Dozen Years of Changes in PGCPS Governance Structure

by Amy Alford

Over the last dozen years, the PGCPS Board of Education has been structured in several different ways. Each time, the change occurred as the result of an act of the Maryland General Assembly.

The governance of PGCPS is unusual compared to school districts across the country. Nationwide, 90% of school districts are termed “Independent School Districts” which means that the elected school board has taxing authority. In Prince George’s County (and in Maryland in general), the school board depends on the county government to partially fund its budget (other money comes from the state and federal government). ([12])

In 2003, the elected board of education was replaced by a board appointed by the county executive (Wayne Curry at the time), and the governor. At the same time, the superintendent position was renamed the CEO, forcing Iris Metts, the superintendent at the time, to reapply for her job. ([1], [2]) She was rehired, but did not seek a new contract in 2003. The dissolution of the school board was in part caused by an attempt by the board to fire Metts. After Metts left, the appointed board hired Andre Hornsby, who resigned in 2005 during a federal investigation that ended with his conviction. ([3]). Howard Burnett served as acting CEO until John Deasy was hired in 2006.

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