Prince George's County

Prince George’s Teachers’ Union Critical of School Board Structure

The Prince George’s County teachers’ union is railing against the current 13-member school board structure, particularly the appointment of three members by the county executive and another person by County Council.

The union will make its case for an all-elected school board Tuesday, Dec. 19 at its headquarters in Forestville.

The union maintains that when all school board members are elected, rather than appointed, there’s more accountability with students and parents, ensures the superintendent adheres to school policy and improves communication with the entire community.

“We need at least a board to check the CEO on the administrative policies of teachers and the budget. Right now, we don’t have any recourse,” said Theresa Mitchell Dudley, president of the teachers’ union. “We’ve got restorative practices going. Finally got a pay raise for teachers they haven’t had in a while, but it’s been a fight. You shouldn’t have to fight so far for someone who says they believe in you.”

The union commissioned the National Education Association to publish a report on why all 13 school board members should be elected, but also to create a citizens advisory council to offer suggestions on a myriad of school-related topics.

Currently, ad hoc committees are created that lack consistency and historical context, according to the NEA document.

The 12-page report highlights seven other school systems nationwide with at least 101,000 students from the 2014-15 school year, but countywide populations from the 2016 Census such as neighboring Montgomery County, Maryland, and nearby Fairfax County, Virginia.

The document mentions the population in Broward County, Florida, of 748,000. However, last year’s Census puts it at 1.9 million.

The median household incomes listed in the document are slightly less than figures from 2016 Census, except Broward County at $66,000. The Census recorded the figure at $52,954.

Montgomery, Broward, Fairfax and the other county school systems — DeKalb and Gwinnett in Georgia, Shelby in Tennessee and Wake in North Carolina — all have elected school boards.

“The chain of responsibility makes the superintendent accountable to board members elected by local citizens, thus putting the public in public schools,” according to the NEA report. “Voters in all these counties have the ability to choose each and every member of their school board. If this is standard practice elsewhere, why is it not in Prince George’s?”

The proposal mirrors a similar effort led by state Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-District 26) to introduce legislation when the General Assembly reconvenes next month to ensure all 13 members are elected.

Prince George’s board has a 14th member, designated as a high school student, but that person is chosen by a student government association and cannot vote on budgets, school closings and personnel items.

There must be a two-thirds vote to adopt policies and other matters, or at least nine members instead of not a simple majority.

The current structure was approved by the state legislature in 2012, led by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, to institute more responsibility to the county leadership. Part of the vote also incorporated the name change of superintendent to CEO.

Besides the teacher’s union, the county’s NAACP has expressed displeasure with the structure and leadership by schools system CEO Kevin Maxwell. Baker has continued to support Maxwell and his administrative team.

The local civil rights organization requested a meeting with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan this month to request state intervention to further investigate why an audit revealed some high school seniors who graduated the past two years had grades changed and high absenteeism.

Prince George’s NAACP President Bob Ross, who wrote the letter sent to Hogan on Nov. 30, couldn’t be reached for comment.

However, Dudley disagreed with involving Hogan.

“To bring public schools to a Republican governor who doesn’t [care] about Prince George’s County is a problem,” she said. “He doesn’t care about public schools. What has been done is put Prince George’s County in the middle of a gubernatorial campaign.”

Meanwhile, the school board will hold a special meeting the same day as the teacher’s union regarding a state audit on grade changes.

The state hired D.C.-based firm Alvarez & Marsal Public Sector Services and determined about 5 percent of 1,212 high school seniors sampled from the past two years didn’t have proper documentation to determine eligibility to graduate.

The recommendations offered include Prince George’s officials ensuring that policies of make-up work are outlined and provide clarity and training on grading procedures.

School system spokesman John White said that recorded telephone calls were made to parents when the first quarter ended last month to communicate deadlines for appealing grades.

“This was not done previously and was intended to help parents understand the process for appropriate grade changes,” he said. “There will be more updates provided to parents this month. … The school system is keeping parents informed and acting on the audit’s recommendations.”

Officials plan to submit a response from the audit to the state Department of Education by Dec. 31.

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William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer

I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways: Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail, wford@washingtoninformer.com

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