Panasonic, which has affiliations with school systems in Elizabeth, N.J., San Diego and Connecticut, will assist the county during the next nine months to navigate the governance structure approved by state lawmakers in April. Prince George’s will be one of the largest school districts to partner with Panasonic.
The agreement is one of the most significant steps the board has taken since the General Assembly gave County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) the power to choose the schools chief, name three appointed board members and select the board chair and vice chair.
The move to team with Panasonic also speaks to the challenges that the reconfigured 13-member panel has faced in its early days since the legislation went into effect in June, and about the work that lies ahead.
Eubanks said the board is considering a 10-year agreement with Panasonic that could begin next year.
“There have been growing pains, but you expect that with any change,” Eubanks said. “We are looking at facilitating the relationship between the board, the superintendent and the county executive. We are already doing that, but this will help move the process forward.”
Since the legislation took effect, the board has experienced upheaval. Two members, citing personal reasons, abruptly resigned within two months of each other. And several elected members have said they feel marginalized, which they think has stifled the board’s working relationship.
Verjeana Jacobs (District 5), who served as chair for six years before the restructuring, cited “a lack of inclusion and collaboration” in schools matters. “I know there are conversations at the county executive level that don’t include the board,” she said.
Edward Burroughs (District 8) said the new structure has created a situation where “there is no accountability to the board” because board leadership is appointed. He said, for example, that a member of Baker’s administration received a presentation from Panasonic, but most board members were excluded. Still, the board was asked to vote on the agreement.
“I’m hoping moving forward we’ll figure it out and figure it out soon so we can have the conversations about student achievement,” Burroughs said.
Some current and former board members said the environment has been tense.
Former board member Donna Hathaway Beck, who resigned earlier this month to spend more time with her family, said she felt like she was moving further away from the reason why she ran for the school board, which was to help students.