Citizens for an Elected Board (CEB), a major Prince George’s schools watchdog group, staged a rally outside the Prince George’s Board of Education (BOE) building in Upper Marlboro on May 21 to protest County Executive Rushern L. Baker III’s schools’ takeover plan. A petition drive seeking 8,000 signatures by May 31 is circulating to stop the law from taking effect June 1.
CEB co-chairs Janis Hagey and Dave Kahn, along with Kenneth Haines, president of the Prince George’s County Educator’s Association (PGCEA), are key supporters of the petition drive and trumpet the changes as a “bad law” that forces the citizens to “give up control” of their schools.
“We think there’s going to be less attention to education,” said Hagey.
“Remember this is the county executive who is responsible for health, transportation, public safety. Are you certain that he’s going to focus the needed attention on education? We say no.”
The new law, passed as HB1107 allows the county executive, effective June 1, to select the school system CEO and appoint three board of education members in addition to naming the board’s chair and vice chair. One additional board member will be appointed by the county council.
While June 1 nears, petition drive organizers are pushing ahead to gain support and signatures.
Nearly 14,000 people are canvassing for the petition including the PGCEA and the ACE-AFSCME Union Local 2250. Hagey also shared that they are working with black mega-churches in the county to gain more signatures.
In an earlier organizing meeting for the petition drive state Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Dist. 26), pastor of The Ark of Safety Church and the sole member of the Prince George’s delegation to the state legislature to vote against HB 1107, committed to help organize church community support.
Organizers said Muse is still very active and supportive of the petition drive but specifics of his involvement were not shared.
The petition drive lost a huge supporter when the Prince George’s County chapter of the NAACP flipped their support and decided to stand behind the new schools law. The NAACP has been one of the most vocal supporters of voting rights for the board of education and CEB.
Bob Ross, president of the county’s NAACP chapter, felt the time had come to end the division over HB1107 and support students.
In response Hagey said she is, “disappointed, outraged and conflicted,” and asks, “why would they do that as an early and consistent member of our coalition?” As a result she has decided to end her membership.
County residents still supporting the petition drive are worried about the future of the education policy process and the school children.
“The CEO has complete control over the policy but the school board has the budget, that’s gridlock,” said Wanda White of Clinton who attended the rally. “They are putting people in these key positions but are they really for our students.
Who’s going to lose”?
CEB has less than a week to get 8,000 signatures but Kahn specified that if the petition falls short of the needed signers they, “will continue working to change the legislation.”