Prince George’s County executive candidates agreed that the majority-Black jurisdiction needs merit increases for teachers and county employees, a higher minimum wage and more affordable housing.
Three of the candidates — former Rep. Donna Edwards, state Sen. C. Anthony Muse and Paul Monteiro — also agreed during a Jan. 31 candidate’s forum at the Prince George’s County Educators Association headquarters in Forestville that the school board structure must return to an all-elected board. Muse has legislation in the Maryland General Assembly to eliminate the hybrid format and also allow members to appoint a chair and vice chair.
However, State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks didn’t go that far, pointing out that the school board has used both appointed and all-elected configuration “and has made no difference whatsoever.”
“What I would love is to depoliticize education in Prince George’s County,” she said to an applause from the standing-room-only crowd. “It has not affected student achievement in Prince George’s County whatsoever.”
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III pushed for the measure in 2012 to allow the executive to appoint three members to the school board and its chair and vice chair. County Council appoints another member.
Opponents say the hybrid format doesn’t hold the board accountable and allows the schools system CEO Kevin Maxwell to manage without stronger oversight. Maxwell and other top school officials meet with the state board of education last week to discuss changes the system continues to make after a state audit found some high school seniors ineligible to graduate.
That’s one reason why former student school board member Juwan Blocker wants a return to an all-elected board.
“As a recent graduate of the school system, this board has negatively impacted the Prince George’s County school system because of this hybrid structure,” said Blocker, who’s running for District 3 school board seat and supports Edwards and Muse for county executive. “I am going to continue to watch what happens.”
Invitations were extended to the other two candidates, Lewis S. Johnson and Jonathan C. White, but Johnson did not participate and White withdrew his candidacy on Jan. 31, according to the Maryland Board of Elections website.
The winner in the June 26 Democratic primary will likely replace County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, whose term expires this year and is running for governor. The primary winner will more than likely also win November’s general election in the overwhelming Democratic county.
“I did appreciate how the [questions] were not just for teachers, but for the residents,” said Stephanie Massey, an art teacher at High Point High School in Beltsville who also lives in the county. “When you get in office, are you going to do what you say? I’m more concerned about how true to your word you are.”
Massey, like many in attendance, hasn’t yet settled on a candidate.
The League of Women Voters moderated the forum with 14 questions for all the candidates to answer, but none directed to a particular individual.
The discussion did get a bit spirited when the subject of how to eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline was broached. Alsobrooks said bail reform must also be included to help children and parents.
“When issues like bail reform come before us, we don’t choke and cough and sell out our young people who are locked up,” she said. “School-to-prison pipeline just [doesn’t] deal with children, but with their parents … who get locked up and lose their jobs.”
Although the next question focused on whether each candidate supports an increase of the minimum wage to $15, Muse felt compelled to respond to Alsobrooks’ previous comments.
Muse sponsored a bill during last year’s Maryland General Assembly that allowed judges to use cash bail as an option, especially when poor defendants may have to shell out additional money for requirements such as a urinalysis test, an ankle monitor and a probation officer. Although the bill passed in the Senate, it died in the House.
“It’s a system that’s not working … [and] not getting poor people out of jail,” he said. “Let’s tell the truth and do it right.”
Each candidate agreed that teachers and county labor workers should be provided salary increases.
Edwards suggested eliminate salary increases for top administrators in the school system and using that money to not only pay workers, but also for classroom programs.
“We do not have a money problem when it comes to ordering our priorities in this county,” she said. “People deserve to earn decent wages that allows them to take care of themselves and their families and meet their responsibilities.”
All the candidates acknowledged more transparency and accountability must be provided to residents, especially to ensure money from the MGM National Harbor casino resort goes toward education.
“This is not a normal year,” Montiero said. “If you keep on talking like this is a regular year, [then] you’re going to get the same results.”