Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III made a trip to South Bowie May 28 to explain and rally support for a new law scheduled to take effect June 1which gives him the power to appoint the new schools head administrator, name three members to the school board and determine the school board chair and vice chair.
The meeting marked the first time Baker met with residents to discuss the plan, a point of contention among many residents who felt it left too much control of the schools’ administration in his hands. About 150 people attended.
The May 28 meeting was the second time in three days that Baker had addressed stakeholders about the new law, called HB 1107, which was passed in the Maryland General Assembly allowing for the sweeping changes. On May 25, he invited 50 leaders from the board of education, county council, general assembly delegation, PTAs and community organizations to a breakfast to emphasize the importance of unity and collaboration as the county moves closer to the June 1.
Baker has also met with school employees, union officials and business leaders.
The community meeting began with Baker, whose three children were educated in Prince
George's public schools, explaining the provisions of the new law, which calls for him to appoint a new schools chief from among three candidates selected by a search committee appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley. The name of the head administrator would change from superintendent to chief executive officer. The committee is scheduled to begin the search on June 1.
The current plan gave Baker less power than he’d sought. He wanted control over the $1.7 billion school budget, the authority to hire the schools chief and to make the appointee a member of his cabinet. The law also gives the county council authority to select one member to the school board—a county resident with at least one child enrolled in the public schools. Baker’s appointees must have some expertise in business or education.
When asked what his time frame of success would be, Baker replied: “Yesterday, and I mean that sincerely.” The audience applauded.
Baker told the audience that students in the system need for assistance for psychological issues and the most successful schools are the ones with significant community involvement. There were often cheers and nods of approval at his responses.
The happy mood of the room changed, however, when Baker opened the floor up for comments.
“I’m scared to have a baby because I do not want them to grow up in this kind of school system,” one person said. Another said that although she resides in Prince George’s, her children do not attend the public schools.
While the forum was information based, Baker lobbied for support at the breakfast, whose purpose was "to emphasize the importance of unity and collaboration, officials said in a statement.
“Today we took an important step forward for this county and our school system," Baker said in a statement. "Legislators, council members, the Board of Education, the County Executive, unions and key community groups took this opportunity to talk constructively about how to move our system forward. Our students are the common denominator in this equation and today it was clear that we are all focused on providing them with the best educational experience
possible. We are all responsible and accountable for their success."
Besides Baker, speakers at the breakfast included County Council Chair Andrea Harrison and Board of Education Chair Verjeana Jacobs, who talked about the measures that were taken to implement the mandated changes.
Jacobs said stakeholders "must respectfully put aside our differences and commit ourselves to making children-focused decisions.”
Officials said 160 people applied for positions on the board. The appointments will be announced after June 1.
Prince George’s County House Delegation Chair Jolene Ivey, whose five sons attended Prince George's public schools, credited the delegation for establishing "legislation that meets the unique needs" of local school children.
"This law was always about improving our schools for the children and now we have to work together and accelerate our efforts to build a school system that focuses on excellence and prepares every child for success,” she said in a statement.