Although the Maryland House of Delegates voted unanimously last month in Annapolis to slightly restructure the Prince George’s County Public Schools system, but the changes still await Senate approval with the 90-day session scheduled to end Monday, April 9.
The two main items involve the selection of the school board vice chair by elected board members and the creation of an inspector general office.
The proposed changes stem from recent controversies such as alleged pay raises for high-ranking school staff and grade inflation among high school seniors that some officials, educators and residents have called lack of accountability.
Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-District 26) of Accokeek maintains his position the county should revert to an all-elected school board.
As for the inspector general, he said Friday, March 30 it all depends on who would decide on overseeing the school system. According to the legislation, County Council would make the selection.
“I’m not sure I have a lot of faith in that,” said Muse, who’s running for Prince George’s County executive. “It seems to be political to make the citizens think we did something, when in fact we did nothing.”
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who represents portions of Prince George’s and Calvert counties, said a hybrid format ensures all students and families receive proper representation and resources.
“The beauty of [a hybrid board] is you have people who are elected and have people who look at the county as a whole,” Miller said. “The completely elected school board didn’t work. [Hybrid structure] has its challenges, but it [works] better than just people looking at their own areas.”
According to a brief, historical analysis of the legislation, Prince George’s swayed through changes to the school board structure when as a hybrid with nine members in 2002.
In December 2006, the legislature changed to all nine members elected with five from a particular district and four at-large colleagues.
Based on a recommendation in 2012 from Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, state lawmakers approved to add four appointed members and expand the board to 13. The county executive can currently appoint three members and select both chair and vice chair, while the County Council approves a third member.
The proposed legislation allows the executive to continue to appoint the school board chair. Both the chair and vice chair would serve two-year terms.
Also, a three-fifths vote, or eight of the 14 members, would allow them “to take an action that is contrary to an action of the chief executive officer,” according to the legislation. The current figure stands at two-thirds, or seven members.
A high school student makes up the 14th person on the board, but she’s chosen by a regional Student Government Association and doesn’t vote on the budget, school closings and personnel matters.
Meanwhile, an inspector general would be appointed for a four-year term to assist County Council and the school system with several functions, including: preventing, investigating and reporting instances of fraud, waste and abuse of funds.
The $191,000 salary includes a $141,000 base and $49,000 for fringe and retirement benefits.
According to a March 28 letter from Demetria T. Tobias, an attorney who represents the Prince George’s school board, the board opposes the inspector general position mainly because the school system already has an internal auditor that receives and assess complaints. In addition, the $190,000 would take away funding for other programs and the county would be on the jurisdiction in the state with an inspector general, according to the letter.
Delegate Alonzo Washington (D-District 22) of Hyattsville, pushed for the creation of the position, outlining a four-page list of 15 cases of waste, fraud and abuse in the school system dating back to 1993.
If both bills regarding the school board structure and inspector general position are approved, they would go into effect June 1 and July 1, respectively.