Alvin Thornton, an education expert in Maryland who 16 years ago successfully authored a formula to ensure equitable funding for all children, will return to lead the Prince George’s County school board for a fourth time.
County Executive Angela Alsobrooks announced Thornton’s appointment Wednesday at the Wayne K. Curry Administration Building in Largo.
During the ceremony, Thornton told a short story of how his grandson influenced him to rejoin the board he led as chair three times in the 1990s.
“He said, ‘Pa Pa, we need you to help.’ That was it,” said Thornton, whose two daughters graduated from Central High School in Capitol Heights. “I’m now very pleased to engage [in public service] again … at the level in making sure all of our children have adequate and equitable access to resources that they need.”
Thornton, 70, will join four new members to the 14-member board: Joshua Thomas, Pamela Boozer-Strother, Belinda Queen and Paul Monteiro, who Alsobrooks appointed last month to serve as an at-large member.
“I am more hopeful than ever before,” board member Edward Burroughs III said to Thornton during the press conference. “Dr. Thornton will bring much needed urgency and focus that we haven’t had for quite some time. We consider you our coach, our captain and we’re ready to roll up our sleeves to get to work.”
Thornton arrives on the heels of the maligned tenures of former schools CEO Kevin Maxwell and former school board chairman Segun Eubanks, who announced last month he planned to resign.
In the past two years, the school system encountered several high-profile hurdles, including accusations of child abuse, neglect and other offenses by teachers and staff.
The state Department of Education also commissioned an audit that uncovered a grade-fixing scandal, inflated graduation rates and excessive absenteeism.
Burroughs and two other board members presented documentation accusing Maxwell of giving unauthorized pay increases to certain staffers. This summer, Burroughs accused Eubanks of threatening him behind closed doors after a meeting. The case was closed, but it showed a lack of cohesiveness among the entire board.
Now, with interim schools CEO Monica Goldson, who took the reins this summer, and Thornton on board, optimism and confidence has spread throughout the county.
“[Thornton] brings a wealth of credibility to the position,” said County Councilwoman Deni Taveras (D-District 2) of Adelphi. “I think just his presence demands respectI am really excited to see what the future holds for PGCPS.”
Besides Thornton’s calm demeanor, leadership and passion for children he affectionately calls “our babies,” supporters say one of his main attributes is his experience regarding state education.
Nearly 20 years ago, Thornton helped create and get approved the current statewide formula known as the Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools, which aims to spread funding into all the local school systems, not based on zip code, poverty status or limited English proficiency.
Subsequent setbacks such as the 2008 financial recession have since caused county governments to spend less on certain services, including education. Educators and advocates have pleaded for more money amid increasing class sizes, constantly changing technology and additional needs in student services.
Some state and local officials, including those in Prince George’s, have said their respective jurisdictions remain underfunded based on the geographical cost of index, which allows for school districts to receive greater compensation where education costs are higher.
Along with those challenges and teacher salaries remaining stagnant, education remains nearly $3 billion underfunded, said Cheryl Bost, president of the state’s teachers’ union.
“Those formulas accounted for a student population 20 years ago,” she said. “Our student population, the needs and technology is creating even more of a demand on our schools and those formulas just haven’t kept up.”
As for Thornton, Bost stood alongside him during a press conference this summer in Towson to encourage voters support last month’s ballot question to ensure at least $500 million annually would go into the education trust fund from the state’s six casinos.
“He understands and has seen firsthand the inadequacies that we have in so many schools,” she said. “Some districts and some schools are faced with greater challenges. We have to recognize that and really put our money where our mouth is to help these students. He has never lost sight of that.”
Alsobrooks hopes Thornton’s will help improve some challenges in the state’s second-largest school system that include the state’s largest number of disabled students, English language learners and 62 percent of students who receive free and reduced lunch.
“We’re really confident that with Dr. Thornton we will be able to ensure what really is our chief priority and that is making sure our schools are fully funded,” she said.