By Jessica Ricks
UPPER MARLBORO – The Prince George’s County Educators’ Association (PGCEA) organized a sit-in at the Board of Education (BOE) meeting on Thursday, June 8 to continue their demands for transparency and accountability in the school system.
“We are reclaiming our schools,” said PGCEA President Theresa Mitchell Dudley. “The narrative is being written by everyone but the educators.”
There has been a 15 percent turnover rate in Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) teachers in the past year due to insufficient pay, Mitchell Dudley said. The county has had to hire many provisional teachers that don’t have licenses to teach to make up for it, and the PGCEA is saying enough is enough.
This was the last Board of Education meeting of the school year, and PGCEA urged as many teachers as possible to come. The meeting ended up having a full auditorium with more than 100 teachers, students and other stakeholders singing “We reclaim our schools” in solidarity.
As part of their sit-in, PGCEA made the following list of demands: a seat at the table when selecting the next PGCPS transitional and permanent CEO, the inclusion of additional steps and raises to educators in the fiscal year 2019 school board budget, a countywide plan for a clean and safe school environment, wrongly laid off school counselors from DuVal High School to be put back to work immediately and the implementation of the PGCPS Community Schools Policy.
PGCPS Board of Education Chair Segun Eubanks opened the meeting with a statement that he would meet with the PGCEA on the following Monday if his schedule allowed him to which Mitchell Dudley and the other PGCEA members responded that was not good enough. With pressure from the group, Eubanks agreed publically to meet with them on June 11 at five p.m.
The issue of pay raises for teachers was originally not going to be discussed of the meeting until District 8 BOE member Edward Burroughs, III spoke up stating that he would like to have the four percent increase for teachers pay added as an amendment to the day’s agenda.
“We have a lot of stakeholders here,” he said during the meeting. “We have many meetings where the stakeholders cannot participate. I don’t see the harm in discussing it.”
Other board members’ reasons for disagreeing were that this did not follow the process of getting things done and it could be discussed at next week’s budget meeting. A vote was taken and discussion of the increase was outvoted five to seven.
“I have been a teacher in Prince George’s County since 2009,” said Erika Terry, who teaches at Oxon Hill Middle School. “I’m four steps behind in pay, but my responsibilities have become more in-depth. A four percent raise helps but it doesn’t take into account teachers pay out-of-pocket for materials and take classes to recertify. We’re not being reimbursed. It’s disrespectful.”
PGCEA members were further upset by secret pay raises that took place within the BOE administration, especially that of CEO Kevin Maxwell who is currently transitioning out of his position, Mitchell Dudley said.
“I don’t have a direct issue with Maxwell,” said Michele Clarke, a teacher at William Heck Elementary School. “My problem is with the idea of the Golden Parachute. Paying off his contract at this point doesn’t make sense.”
Mitchell Dudley takes issue not only with Maxwell, but with Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, III as well.
“With all the problems we’ve been having, loss of grant money, hundreds of teachers and educators placed on administrative leave and the secret pay raises, the county executive stood back and did nothing,” she said. “He still refuses to admit these problems are a result of the fact that they have not been working with the community on these issues.”
Compensation was not the only problem the teachers had with the school system. They want better facilities and a safer school environment, said Terry, who suffered permanent lung damage from the mold conditions in her school. They want to be involved in decisions made about the school system, and they cannot do it then when the BOE holds their meetings during school hours. Finally, they want counselors who were wrongfully recommended for termination by Maxwell and recently laid off to get their jobs back.
“We’re extremely demoralized,” said Clarke, who is running for County Council District 7. “People in other counties are making four to five times what we make. We’re so many steps behind.”
Following an awards ceremony for the MGM National Harbor’s Positive Impact Scholarship, teachers had the opportunity to express grievances to the BOE such as money to improve the facilities at Turning Point Academy and renew their charter as well as a call for more support for creative arts and special needs students.
“My question is what are you so afraid of?” Mitchell said to the BOE. “Why are you so afraid of educators when all they want to do is teach? You as a board have a responsibility as far as this transition is concerned to meet with the educators of Prince George’s County and make sure we are at the table.”
The BOE discussed other matters such as the Community Schools Initiative, a plan proposed by Maxwell in December 2017 for resources and services for schools with the goal of making them centers for community life. PGCEA has been pushing for the initiative to pass, however, after some discussion, the BOE decided to discuss it further on another day.
“A lot of things were covered,” said Deidra Daniels, a teacher at James McKinney Elementary School. “I hope concerns were heard. It will take time to see what the board acts on.”
PGCEA’s hope going forward is that the Board of Education will genuinely take into account what was said at the meeting and start to implement their demands.
“We were not there to stop the meeting,” said Mitchell Dudley. “We were there to make a point and let them know we’re going to be here and we’re going to come back.