Pr. George’s residents work to block new school system structure

Organizers of a petition drive to block Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III’s plan to restructure the public school system from taking effect said during a news conference Tuesday that they have a couple of hundred canvassers collecting signatures at megachurches, graduations and community gatherings as their deadline approaches.

Citizens for an Elected Board, a community activist group, must collect 8,000 signatures by May 31 to prevent the new structure, which gives Baker new powers, from taking effect June 1. If they get the 8,000 signatures, they would need 23,195 signatures, or 10 percent of voters in the last gubernatorial election, by June 30 to place the issue on the November 2014 general election ballot.

The organizers were joined at the news conference by Kenneth Haines, president of the teachers’ union, and Thomas Byrd, an education activist in the District who fought former mayor Adrian Fenty’s school takeover. Byrd said that the school takeover in the District has led to less transparency and public involvement and little increase in academic achievement.

“We don’t want that kind of experience in Prince George’s and we’re going to fight to stop it,” Jan Hagey, co-chair of the group, said, referring to the school takeover in the District.

The organizers said they did not know how many signatures have been collected so far. They are expecting the bulk of the petitions to be handed in next week.

The group suffered a setback last week when the county branch of the NAACP announced that it would not work with them to oppose the new structure. The two groups worked together in 2002 to bring back the elected school board, which had been dissolved and replaced with an appointed board.

David Cahn, co-chair of Citizens for an Elected Board, said the NAACP “wimped out . . . but we’ll go on without them and we will overcome.”

The county branch of the NAACP had been strongly opposed to Baker’s (D) proposal to select the new schools chief and have control over the school system’s $1.7 billion budget. The organization worked with the teachers’ union and Citizens for an Elected Board to persuade state lawmakers to reject the plan.

The General Assembly approved an amended version of the bill last month, and shortly afterwards, Citizens for an Elected Board launched the petition drive to take the issue to a referendum.

“We’re asking for the people of Prince George’s County to have a choice in this since they weren’t asked,” Cahn said.

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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