ANNAPOLIS — Equipped with signs, cowbells and red “Fix the Fund” paraphernalia, hundreds of educators rallied Monday to demand lawmakers ensure casino revenue enhances education.
The bills — sponsored by state Sen. Joan Carter Conway and Delegate Maggie McIntosh, two Baltimore City lawmakers — would require voters to decide on a constitutional amendment in the November election.
The legislation from Conway and McIntosh would also ensure casino money would increase education and exceed beyond the state formula.
“We are going to fix the fund!” Conway said while shaking a red cowbell.
After the rally ended, Conway’s legislation unanimously passed in the Senate and will be sent to the House. McIntosh’s bill remains under review by her House colleagues.
Monday also marked “Crossover Day,” a self-imposed deadline for lawmakers to approve bills in the House and Senate and send them to the respective chamber for approval, with the reasoning that meeting the deadline allows a better chance for any legislation to be signed by the governor.
Although casino money has been generated and placed into an Education Trust Fund, officials and even Gov. Larry Hogan have said funds previously approved in 2008 and 2012 didn’t ensure the money would be used for other purposes.
Hogan, who was elected in 2014, presented similar “lockbox” legislation last month and a $4.4 billion spending plan on education for the next decade. However, his proposal came without a referendum.
To ensure lawmakers approve the measure before the session ends April 9, they marched, shook cowbells and yelled “Fix the Fund” around the State House.
“The greatest achievement of any protest, or assembly like this is to mobilize and organize people around an idea,” said Arun Puracken, a social studies teacher at Accokeek Academy. “All too often, people that make decisions for public education only care about their own interests and they have no stake.”
Puracken, a Prince George’s school board candidate who resides in Accokeek, said the additional revenue would help underserved schools receive updated technology and hire additional personnel to teach special academic programs.
Some school systems such as Prince George’s have high-ranking officials who make too much money, he said, which has angered some parents and residents.
Allegations surfaced last month that several school officials received pay raises of at least 10 percent without the full school board’s knowledge. Three school board members said in a letter the approval either came from schools CEO Kevin Maxwell or one of his top subordinates.
Teachers’ union President Theresa Mitchell Dudley acknowledged a contract for raises was approved by the school system, but teachers are at least three steps behind other jurisdictions. Steps are salary increases for educators based on experience and longevity in a school system.
Meanwhile, lawmakers in the House unanimously approved Friday for the Prince George’s school board to select a vice chair among those who are elected members.
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. A high school student serves 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.
However, some wanted the school board to approve the board’s chair, select a schools chief and make the entire board an all-elected body.
Dudley called the proposed legislation now set for Senate review “weak.”
“If that’s all they’re going to do, I promise you [Prince George’s County Educator’s Association] will run a referendum to get it change,” she said. “That bill doesn’t do anything to change the structure of our school system.”