Pr. George’s school board again opposes state bills related to task force, artificial turf

February 14, 2013

First, the Prince George’s County Board of Education opposed a state bill that would create a task force to study the composition and operations of the board and another that would require artificial turf to be installed at all county schools.

Then, it decided to rescind its opposition.

Now, it has opposed the measures— again.

The school board voted Wednesday night against the two pieces of legislation, raising questions about the timing and the cost of the bills, respectively.

In reference to the task force legislation, board Chairwoman Verjeana Jacobs (District 5) said the board appreciated Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith’s (D) intent but “we think this is bad timing and not a good bill. . ..

“This school district is in the midst of a superintendent search,” Jacobs said. “That is the core of our work.”

The board voted unanimously in opposition to the bill.

Jacobs said if members of the General Assembly want to help the school board they can offer advice in several areas such as improving parent participation, reducing truancy and retaining teachers.

Valentino-Smith lobbied school board members to change their initial votes opposing the bill. And she offered amendments she hoped would make the board more willing to support the measure. Del. Jay Walker (D-Prince George’s) and Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Prince George’s), who sponsored the artificial turf bill, did the same.

With an 8-2 vote, the board voted about two weeks ago to rescind its opposition to the bills, before changing course again Wednesday night.

School board member Donna Hathaway Beck (District 9) said the estimated $20 million that it would cost to install the artificial turf fields at the county’s schools was low because it didn’t include the cost of maintenance.

But in a recent interview Walker described the effort as a “long-term cost saving measure” and a “big safety issue.”

Beck said Wednesday that she continued to oppose the bill because the money could be better spent.

“We have an obligation to prioritize schools where students are in poor facilities over artificial grass,” she said.

Jacobs said the board wanted state lawmakers to know its final position on the bills prior to any action they might take.

According to original bill on the board of education task force, the panel would study and make recommendations on the qualifications and compensation of board members; the methods for selecting members; the racial and gender diversity of the board; the criteria for accountability, oversight and outcomes; protocol for board audits; and addressing audit findings.

Valentino-Smith scaled back the legislation by removing the group’s charge to study the selection of board members, which had become one of the most contentious issues. Board members and some residents had raised concerns that a review of how board members are selected could be the first step to returning to an appointed school board.

She also changed the composition of the task force to include parents, union representatives and members from the business community, and removed the panel’s review of the racial and gender diversity of the school board.

The Prince George’s Board of Education has come under scrutiny in recent months after one member was forced to resign after it was reported that she had been living outside of her district, in violation of state law, and a report pointed out that few members of the board have college degrees, unusual among school boards in the Washington region and across the country.

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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