Now, as Baker tries to persuade state lawmakers to put him in charge of not only the schools superintendent but also the school system’s $1.7 billion budget, some residents are pinning their hopes for the county’s future on what they believe could be the salvation of the school system. Others wonder if a new governing structure can help the schools, or if a shake-up could create even more problems.
Whatever the outcome, Baker has taken a public stand on an issue he has long targeted. He believes that the school system is in need of repair and that if this isn’t done, the county will struggle to draw new businesses and residents as it competes with wealthier counties that have better schools.
“The county is sandwiched between [Montgomery and Fairfax counties] with the most successful school systems in the country,” said former Maryland governor Parris Glendening (D), who also served as Prince George's county executive from 1982 to 1994. “Businesses are reluctant to locate where they cannot attract and retain the employees they want. So you get in a vicious cycle here.”
State lawmakers introduced a bill last week that would give Baker partial control of the schools, allowing him to select and have authority over the superintendent but keeping the school system’s purse strings in the hands of the elected school board.
“We at least have a fighting chance” with Baker’s plan, said Brian Woolfolk, a lawyer who lives in Fort Washington and sends his daughter to private school because of bad experiences his friends have had with the public schools.
“I don’t have confidence in the system,” Woolfolk said. “And I don’t see this as a magical fix, but I think we are at a crossroads in hiring a superintendent. . . . By every indication, this county is suffering based on the school system.”
If the schools were better, businesses and residents would be less reluctant to make the county their home, said M.H. Jim Estepp, head of the Greater Prince George’s Business Roundtable and a former County Council chairman.
Even when service members learn they will be deployed at Andrews Air Force Base in Camp Springs and other military installations in the county, Estepp said, “They are told, ‘You don’t want to go there because of the schools.’ ”
School board Chairman Verjeana Jacobs (District 5), who has described Baker’s plan as a “last-minute power grab,” said it was unfair to blame the school system, which has shown improvements, for a lack of progress.