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Showdown in Annapolis: Proposed Changes for Prince George's County Schools

Gale Horton Gay | 3/27/2013, 11:25 a.m.

Baker Says Reforms Can't Wait; Jacobs Charges Power Grab

ANNAPOLIS - The heads of Prince George's County government and board of education faced-off in a contentious showdown with each other before the Prince George's House of Delegates on the state of the county's school system.

At a special session with the Prince George's delegation in Annapolis on March 23, County Executive Rushern L. Baker III laid out his proposal to change the structure of the county public school system so the school superintendent is hired and fired by the county executive and reports directly to him instead of to the school board. School Board Chair Verjeana Jacobs expressed her opposition to the plan and said the majority of the board shares her view.

Delegates criticized both Baker and Jacobs for a litany of issues - Baker for introducing the proposal so late in the legislative session and Jacobs for minimizing the extent of problems in the schools.

"This is the busiest week of the session," said Delegate Anne Healey. "I am not happy this is here at this time with so little preparation."

Before the delegates and an audience of about 100 spectators, Baker and Jacobs explained their positions, faced a barrage of tough questions and, at times, harsh comments from delegates and occasionally sniped at one another.

Baker is seeking approval from the state legislature to restructure the management of the school system. The current legislative session is scheduled to end April 8.

Baker said that the county's public schools are so broken that they need fixing from the top down immediately and the county can no longer accept the status quo. He said it's unfair to hire a new superintendent under one structure and change that structure in the middle of that individual's tenure.

The school board is currently engaged in a superintendent search and has narrowed the field to three finalists.

With a budget of $1.6 million, the Prince George's County Public Schools serves 125,000 students and has 18,000 employees.

Baker's proposed structure would give the county executive the power to appoint the superintendent and the county council confirmation authority and add three voting and three non-voting members to the school board. The council would also have the power to appoint a voting member to the school board from the business community. The county executive would appoint a voting member from the educational community and another voting board member would be appointed from the Parent and Teacher Association. The proposed non-voting board members would come from Prince George's Community College, Bowie State University and the University of Maryland, College Park.

Baker said these changes will expand the expertise on the board, focus the board on academic policy and give the superintendent more control over the school system's operations and greater and more efficient access to county government resources.

"I am confident, that by providing the superintendent with more autonomy, giving the school system more resources, and expanding the expertise of the board of education, our schools will be able to serve the children and families of Prince George's County in a more holistic manner," said Baker.