Baker files for reelection less than a year after school governance changes take effect


Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker, seen in this file photo from July 10, 2013, has filed for reelection. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), who has told county residents to “judge this administration” on what happens to the school system, filed for reelection on Friday.

Baker’s bid for a second term comes less than a year after he sought a complete takeover of the county’s long-struggling school system.

In March, Baker asked the General Assembly to put him in charge of the school superintendent and the school system’s $1.7 billion budget and to reduce the power of the elected school board.

Baker said the school system was stifling the county’s ability to attract new businesses and new residents.

The effort was largely hailed by business leaders, community activists and parents. But the teachers’ union, which raised concerns about a provision in the proposal that would let the school superintendent set teachers’ salaries; a small group of residents, who considered the takeover an attack against democracy; and members of the elected school board, who said they were blindsided by Baker’s plan, balked at the idea.

While state lawmakers denied Baker’s original request, they did give him considerable influence over the school system.

Under a compromise, Baker was granted the authority to select the schools chief, name the chair and vice chair of the school board and appoint three new members to a new hybrid board.

A group of residents, Citizens for an Elected Board, tried unsuccessfully to block the legislation by collecting signatures on a petition, hoping to place the issue on a referendum.

Prior to his takeover attempt, Baker had repeatedly said he did not want control of the school system. But he wanted to play a more active role than the traditional county executive, he said. Baker visited a school once a week and established an education commission to advise him on improving schools.

But Baker’s authority was limited. When former School Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. was considering resigning to take the top job in Philadelphia, Baker tried to convince him to stay. But because of the governance structure, Baker had little influence, and Hite left.

In the middle of the school board’s search for a permanent replacement for Hite, Baker asked for the takeover.

Since the legislation took effect in June, the school board has been restructured, and the district has a new schools chief.

Baker selected Kevin M. Maxwell, the former superintendent of the Anne Arundel County School System, to lead the system. Maxwell, a longtime resident of the county, started his career in Prince George’s and served as an administrator in Montgomery County. Baker received widespread praise for the selection.

Parents, who send their children to the public schools and those who have left the school system for private schools, are hoping that the new leadership leads to improvements across the board.

Ovetta Wiggins covers Maryland state politics in Annapolis.

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