Testimony of Tonya Wingfield
Prince George’s County Public Schools
February 17, 2016
Honorable State and Delegates
Article 7 of the Maryland Constitution states: That the right of the People to participate in the Legislature is the best security of liberty and the foundation of all free Government; for this purpose, elections ought to be free and frequent; and every citizen having the qualifications prescribed by the Constitution, ought to have the right of suffrage (amended by Chapter 357, Acts of 1971, ratified Nov. 7, 1972).
During the 2013 Legislative Session the General Assembly passed House Bill 1107 giving control of the Prince George’s County School System to the County Executive despite the opposition of the citizenry. While I believe it was a sincere effort of the General Assembly to bring about positive change for our school system. It has created a monopoly, which ignored Article 41 of the Maryland Constitution: That monopolies are odious, contrary to the spirit of a free government and the principles of commerce, and ought not to be suffered.
We are now into the third school year of this bill and it cannot be denied that the Monopoly created by HB1107 has placed a greater burden on the citizens of Prince George’s County that far outweigh any improvements Dr. Maxwell, Mr. Eubanks or Mr. Baker asserts.
PGCPS is operated more like a privately held corporation rather a public school system as demonstrated by the media spin of PGCPS intent on throwing the school principal under the bus and asserting the central office staff as performing as they should to educate and protect our students. The incident at Judge Sylvania Woods cannot be viewed merely as a failure of the school administration. It is indicative of the failure of Central Office’s management and programs and a board powerless to challenge the decisions made for the past three years.
The media spin being communicated to the public is an attempt to deflect Central Office failures to avoid scrutiny and conversations to repeal HB1107. But this is a conversation that the General Assembly can no longer avoid. The Monopoly created by HB1107 disenfranchised the citizens of Prince George’s County by stripping our elected officials of their authority to govern on our behalf and eventually eliminating our vote as vacant elected positions are filled with political appointees. Based on HB1107, our current elected school board members do not have the votes to override any action of Dr. Maxwell who has shown with the transfer of Thomas Addison Elementary, retaliation against whistle-blowers and the push to increase our property taxes 14% that his allegiance is more toward serving the County Executive instead of the students of PGCPS.
Dr. Eubanks has also shown the same allegiance when he allowed the failed voted to transfer Thomas Addison Elementary to move forward and continues to allow Dr. Maxwell to place items on the Consent Agenda to block public input on school business and issues and giving the board the authority to pass items on a First Reader.
The issue with former board member Lyn Mundey is another example. The verification process required to show eligibility for a student to receive free and reduced lunch in the past required the full identification of the parent(s) be disclosed. Ms. Mundey’s name on the application should have been caught. The fact that it was only caught by the federal government demonstrates the gaping holes in the process – holes that were to improve under this new governance.
In addition to my comments as to why HB1107 should be repealed is directly related to the Judge Sylvania Woods scandal. PGCPS was building a strong Student Services program that provided full wrap-around services in meeting the academic and psycho-social development. These coordinated student services sought to provide the public and employees a centralized source to find those services that may not be part of a child’s regular education program, but critical for those that do require the services. Ensuring students receive the services and helps needed in cases of abuse, homelessness and medical illness were a part of the coordinated services. These services are now under an academic area and based on what we’re seeing with Judge Sylvania Woods and another situation I know of where a grandmother has reported the abuse of her grandson having these services scattered across the system is a threat to safety of our children.
Lastly, Dr. Maxwell has allowed the retaliation of whistleblower to destroy the moral fibers of our school system. There are several whistleblowers I know of where senior management has been allowed to use manufactured documentation to have these individuals terminated. Each of these individual’s cases revolves around procurement violations costing the system millions that could be redirected in support of school-based needs. Learning that the screening of volunteers was outsourced, it would be no surprise if some type of procurement violation is connected to this contract. Even more, had the whistleblower that were fired been rewarded for their commitment to children and duties of their position were still there, could this have been avoided.
By Tonya Wingfield