Baker talks to Prince George’s residents about schools takeover plan

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) told more than 16,000 people participating in a telephone town hall to discuss his schools takeover plan on Tuesday night that someone needs to be held accountable for the county’s struggling schools system and asked residents to “put me in the hot seat.”

“Clearly there is a crisis in our school system,” Baker said. “Our schools continue to be ranked at the bottom, we can’t keep a superintendent for more than a few years and our infrastructure is crumbling before our eyes. . . To accept the status quo is not an option.”

Baker has been lobbying state lawmakers to approve legislation that would put him in charge of the school superintendent and the schools system’s $1.7 billion budget. The move would significantly reduce the role of the Board of Education, limiting its responsibility to academic policy and parental engagement.

This week, state lawmakers introduced a bill that would allow Baker to appoint the schools superintendent, but the budget would remain under the control of the school board.

The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs will hold a hearing on SB1071 at 1 p.m. Friday.

Several callers during the hour-long town hall asked Baker about the superintendent search process, which has been on hold since Baker announced his plans, and the timing of the takeover.

One caller asked if Baker would reopen the search process, if he is allowed to appoint a superintendent.

“We’re going to make sure we get public engagement,” Baker said. “We will look at the three candidates” approved by the school board as finalists. “And I want to make sure we look at a breadth of other candidates,” he said.

Baker said he sought the legislation because he thought it was important for a new superintendent to come in under the structure he would be expected to work under. He said former superintendent William R. Hite Jr. told him when he was leaving for his job in Philadelphia that he came to the school system as a deputy superintendent under the appointed board and the school system soon changed back to an elected board.

Other callers asked about his plans to increase parental involvement and what responsibilities the superintendent and school board would have under his proposal.

Baker said his plan called for the president of the county PTA Council to become a member of the school board. He also planned to have a parental ombudsman, who would help to improve parental engagement and create parent academies that would offer tips, information about child development and help parents navigate the school system.

The county House and Senate delegations also plan to hold a three-hour public hearing on the bill on Monday, April 1, beginning at 5 p.m. The meeting will be held in the Joint Hearing room of the Department of Legislative Services Building in Annapolis.

Residents can also send an e-mail with their comments on the bill to pg2@mlis.state.md.us.

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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