State lawmakers from Prince George’s County will present 40 pieces of legislation on the environment, transportation and housing during the 90-day session of Maryland General Assembly, which reconvened this week.
The June 26 primary election for governor, state Senate and delegate and term limits for county executive and council members are crucial matters in Prince George’s agenda.
“This is the last year for many of my colleagues, so there’s a lot of transition happening around the county,” said council Chairwoman Dannielle Glaros (D-District 3) of Riverdale Park. “What we want to do is make sure the key priorities … move forward this year and beyond.”
However, a current hot-button topic in the second-largest jurisdiction in the state is education.
At least 10 of the proposed bills — roughly one-quarter of them — push to decrease class size in elementary schools, accept final reports on teachers and administrators allegedly involved in child abuse cases and create an office of inspector general to be appointed for four years by the county council and the school board.
The two most controversial bills are proposed by state Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-District 26) of Accokeek.
One allows voters to elect all 13 school board members. The 14th person, a high school student, is chosen by a regional student government association. The other piece of legislation would permit the school board members appoint the chair and vice chair and a superintendent, known as the chief executive officer in Prince George’s.
Muse didn’t return phone calls and emails for comment. However, the county’s teacher’s union, the county NAACP and grass-roots organization Progressive Maryland all support the measure.
County Executive Rushern L. Baker III led an effort in 2012 for the state legislature’s approval for permitting the county executive to appoint three board members and the two board leaders, as well as the schools chief. The council approves one other board member and the remaining nine are elected positions.
Baker said during the council’s annual retreat Thursday, Jan. 4 that the major focus should be attaining a portion of $2 billion in additional state money to improve K-12 education.
In 2016, the legislature created the Commission on Innovation and Excellence to assess and possibly revise its state formula to distribute money for schools and enact new policies to improve education. The commission, led by William E. Kirwan, former chancellor of the University of Maryland system, had a deadline to produce a report last month. A decision will now be pushed to later this year, after the General Assembly ends in April.
Baker, one of seven candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in the June 26 primary, said this year’s session to discuss education could be the most important in Annapolis in 20 years.
“If what we are hearing is correct and we need $2 billion additional dollars for our schools, then where does that money come from and where does that money go?” Baker said. “That’s a big, long-term issue. That will really determine how we make our schools better. The school governance question is something we can talk about in 2019.”
Councilman Obie Patterson (D-District 8) of Fort Washington doesn’t mind an all-elected school board, especially since the council approves the entire budget, including education.
Patterson and Councilwoman Mary Lehman (D-District 1) of Laurel agree the school board should appoint a chair and vice chair.
“I think the members of the school board should select their own leadership,” Lehman said. “No one on this council would tolerate someone on the outside picking our chair and vice chair. We would not stand for that. There is no reason the school should, either.”
Delegate Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D-District 23), vice chair of the county delegation, said she wants to hear testimony from supporters and opponents of the proposed school structure change.
“It would be inappropriate and premature for me now to state a public position on it,” said Valentino-Smith, who chairs the delegation’s education committee. “We [must] have full briefings early and make a collective decision on what’s best moving forward.”
To view a copy of the proposed county bills, go to http://bit.ly/1Qqooqp.