UPPER MARLBORO – With County Executive Rushern Baker III beginning to mull applications for a vacant seat on the Board of Education, advocates and former board members are hoping Baker selects somebody with the students’ interests in mind.
Baker’s office released the application on June 29 for the at-large spot seeking applicants who “demonstrate a high level of knowledge and/or experience in the area of management.” All applications must be postmarked or date stamped by close of business on July 27.
“The appointee must possess a high level of knowledge and expertise concerning the successful administration of a large business, nonprofit organization, or government entity,” according to the application. “The appointee, who must be a County resident, will serve a four-year term.”
The application asks people to list professional and organizational memberships and positions they have held and what community involvement experience they possess. The application also requires applicants to provide answers to three questions at no more than page per question:
1) What is your exposure to, or experience with, Prince George’s County Public Schools?
2) What do you believe are the three most critical issues currently facing Prince George’s County Public Schools? And what specific idea do you have to address these issues?
3) What are you interested in serving on the Prince George’s County Board of Education? Please include an explanation of the primary strengths you would bring to this position, and what you believe is the proper role of a Board member?
The job description does not include any mention of education, but Peggy Higgins, a former board member, said she does not have any concerns about the omission. Higgins, who served from 2010 until 2014 when she lost reelection to Lupi Grady, said she did not have a background in education but believes she still made helpful contributions.
“The diversity of backgrounds is beneficial as well, so I don’t necessarily think an education background is critically important” Higgins said. “I do think being able to have enough strength to have an independent voice, because right now the structure is such that it’s the County Executive’s board and the County’s Executive’s ex-brother-in-law who is the chair and certainly Dr. Maxwell is on the cabinet of the County Executive, so it’s more even than having an education background, its being able to provide perspective that may not necessarily be the administrations.”
Higgins said she is more concerned about how Baker picks his appointees than with the candidates’ experience.
“I think it’s not so much who is applying but how they are going to pick the person. I think they are going to focus on people who are going to vote ‘yes’ for whatever the administration wants,” Higgins said.
Board member Edward Burroughs III expressed the same sentiment as Higgins and said he hopes for an applicant that is smart, thoughtful, and has the flexibility to “vote with their conscience.”
“Once you appoint someone that you believe in, from there they ought to have the flexibility to do what they believe is best for kids, because simply appointing a ‘yes’ person does not move the district forward, does not help kids in any way,” Burroughs said. “It has to be more than just control and power, it has to be about appointing someone that’s a value added and allows them to do what you appointed them to do.”
Tehani Collazo, the education policy advisor to Baker, said the last time a position was filled was in December 2013, when Baker appointed Sonya Williams to represent district 9. Collazo said the application process will close on July 27, and the process for filling the position will take approximately seven weeks.
Baker gained the power to appoint members to the Board of Education after the General Assembly passed House Bill 1107 in 2013.
Neither the public, nor the Board of Education will consult Baker on the appointment, but he will seek advisement from his Commission on Education Excellence.
“County Executive Baker has asked his Commission on Education Excellence to serve as the review committee for the Board of Education applications,” Collazo said. “The Commission will select 3-5 finalists who will be interviewed by Mr. Baker. Mr. Baker determines the finalist for the Board of Education At-Large position.”
Although Burroughs worries about how much control Baker has within the board, he said he hopes the new board member will be passionate about issues that students face, especially in special education.
“My hope for the district is we have a board and superintendent that does what is best for the kids, not just for image solely, not what’s best for high ranking elected officials. We really need a board and superintendent whose number one objective is making sure that every child has a high quality education in Prince George’s County. That’s my biggest aspiration,” he said.
Genevieve Demos Kelley, a member of the Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools, said she hopes the next board member will actively engage the community and seek information constantly.
“I hope that the new Board of Education member will be actively engaged in listening and responding to the concerns of parents. I also hope that he or she will give teachers an opportunity to share their practical knowledge of the challenges and solutions that work in the classroom,” Kelley said. “Additionally, I would like all Board members to pursue a thorough understanding of next year’s operating budget. With the hard choices that the school system faces, the Board needs to know the ins-and-outs of our nearly $2 billion budget.”
In 2013 the County Executive received 118 applications for the vacant board seat. As of Thursday, July 2, no applications for the at-large position have been received.
County Executive Baker’s take over of the schools in Prince George’s county was not based on sincere efforts to take the schools forward but had a different political agenda. Our hope is for Mr. Baker to withdraw his involvement and focus on other issues other than education. His propaganda is not helping PGCPS in anyway. Selecting “YES” men and women of Prince George’s County who are well connected to Mr. Baker for other interior motive is not going to take the county school system in the right direction.
The Prince George’s County school Board will be better served without injecting Baker’s selected Board members or a secretly appointed CEO who is a “YES’ man to county Executive Baker. We fought for a better school system using this blog. However, we are afraid we might never get there under Mr. Baker’s oversight which appears driven by “fraud” and mega mismanagement of county resources. Kudos to the two board members who have resigned on their own after seeing the light!