ANNAPOLIS — Prince George’s County senators on Wednesday approved a measure that would allow County Executive Rushern Baker III to select the county’s new schools superintendent and the chairman and vice chairman of an expanded Board of Education.
The bill still must pass the full Senate and win House approval.
Baker in recent weeks had proposed an aggressive overhaul of the school system and lobbied lawmakers to pass a measure that would allow him to select the new superintendent and control the school system’s $1.7 billion budget. That proposal was met with resistance from the school board and several education associations, including the Maryland Association of Boards of Education and the Maryland State Educators Association.
Under the most recent measure, the school board would maintain control of the budget. However, school board chairman Verjeana Jacobs said the board remains opposed to the bill.
“We can’t have such a structural overhaul of our system, which is what this is, without doing a better job of explaining what it’s going to look like in terms of outcomes,” Jacobs said. “Where is the plan for academic achievement? Where is the plan for how we are going to do better?”
The nine-member elected school board would receive four additional members under the proposed measure. Three would be appointed by the county executive and the Prince George’s County Council would have the remaining selection. The appointee for vice chairman would have to come from the elected board.
Under the measure, the superintendent would be the chief executive officer of Prince George’s County Schools and have the authority to consolidate schools. The legislation would require the superintendent to answer to the school board but would put limits on the board’s ability to control day-to-day operations, including a two-thirds vote to override actions taken by the superintendent.
“This (bill) is essentially saying, ‘This is what I want to do and if you don’t like it, more than half of you have to overturn it,’” Jacobs said. “That exists nowhere in the state from a regular, day-to-day operation perspective.”
Prince George’s County schools have for years suffered from low test scores and overcrowded classrooms.
Baker insists that his motivation for a new governance structure is fueled by wanting to improve the district’s low test scores, superintendent retention and address the slow rate of academic improvement compared to other Maryland counties.
“I’m pleased with the compromise,” Baker said. “There is clearly a lot of work that we have to do, but I think this moves us closer to where I want us to be and it holds the county executive responsible for education.”
William R. Hite Jr., the county’s most recent superintendent, left in September to become Philadelphia’s schools chief. The school system is searching for a new superintendent and has seen the position change hands five times in the past decade.
Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince George’s County Democrat, is confident the measure will pass the Senate and have a positive impact on county schools.
“This is our last best chance. It has to work,” Miller said. “We need someone to hold accountable. This makes the county executive, who is going to be appointing the superintendent, largely responsible.”
Sen. Anthony C. Muse was the lone member of the county Senate delegation to oppose the bill, insisting that the sweeping changes to the governance structure were being rushed through the legislature in its final two weeks.