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Opponents of P.G. County School System Changes Collect Petitions

Gale Horton Gay | 5/29/2013, 9 p.m.
A movement to stall, and possibly end, the implementation of a new law to change the management structure of Prince ...
Citizens for an Elected Board organizers David Cahn (left) and Janis Hagey stand with talk show host Thomas K. Byrd at a press conference in front of Prince George's County Public School administrative offices in Upper Marlboro. The group is collecting petitions to force a referendum vote on changes to the management of the school system. Gale Horton Gay

A movement to stall, and possibly end, the implementation of a new law to change the management structure of Prince George’s County public schools will live or die within the next few days. The petitions are due to the State Board of Elections by May 31.

If 8,000 signatures on those petitions are achieved by the deadline, the group will have until June 30 to secure an additional 24,000 petition signatures, which will force a public vote on Nov. 4, 2014 supporting or rejecting the legislature’s changes to the top tier of the Prince George’s public school system, leaders of the group said. It will mean that the additional authority given to the county’s chief executive officer by the legislature over choosing and overseeing the new head of the school system and appointment of additional school board members will be put on hold, they said.

The new law is expected to go into effect June 1 unless the petition drive is successful.

At a rally – changed to a press conference at the last minute – on May 21 in front of the Prince George’s Board of Education building in Upper Marlboro, leaders of Citizens for an Elected Board (CEB), implored a few supporters and members of the media to encourage county residents to sign the petitions.

Janis Hagey, co-chair of CEB, called Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker’s persuasion of the legislature to change the school system’s management structure a “stealth move.”

“It gives too much power to one individual,” said Hagey of Bowie who is both a mother and grandmother. “The voice of the people will be diluted.”

Kenneth B. Haines, president of the Prince George’s County Educators Association, said he disagreed with how the schools are being characterized.

“There is no crisis here,” said Haines, who added that inadequate resources [remain] a problem. He noted that $12,000 per student per year is what the county spends for education compared to $16,000 to $18,000 per student per year in other local counties.

Prince George’s County resident Thomas Byrd of We Act Radio also spoke at the event, saying that the county executive’s new control will mean “less accountability and less transparency” and a “father knows best” mentality.

David Cahn, co-chair of CEB, described himself as “chief critic of the school board.”

“I am not doing this for the school board,” said Cahn. “I am doing this for [us], for parents, for taxpayers and especially doing this for the students.”

Cahn also said he didn’t want to see a situation in which the new school administrator is a “dictator.”

“We are going to win this fight for our civil rights,” said Cahn.

Hagey said she was unsure how many signatures had been collected but they have volunteers from two unions supporting them and have been targeting mega-churches in their petition drive efforts.

CEB leaders said it’s important to let the public decide if they support or reject the legislature mandated changes.

Asked if their group had a Plan B if the petition drive isn’t successful, Cahn said they would continue to work for the betterment of the schools.

Citizens for an Elected Board was formed in 2002 to fight against Baker’s appointed school board that served for six years until the legislature re-established an elected board, officials said.