Pr. George’s teachers union, parents group oppose Baker school takeover plan

Representatives from teachers’ unions and parent organizations expressed support Thursday night for the Prince George's County Board of Education in its fight against the county executive’s proposal to take over the county school system.

School Board Chairwoman Verjeana Jacobs (District 5) told them that she and County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) are supposed to meet soon to discuss the future of the school system.

A school spokesman said the meeting has not been scheduled yet.

Baker said this week that he wants to take over the school system by appointing a new superintendent to his cabinet and assuming authority over the school system’s $1.7 billion budget. If Baker’s plan is approved by the state legislature, the county executive would gain direct control of school system operations, with the schools superintendent a direct report.

Jacobs said she recently talked to a teacher who said she worked for the system for 14 years and had seen seven superintendents come through the system. “If a superintendent works at the pleasure of the county executive, who is elected every four years, how does that lead to stability?” Jacobs asked.

Opponents criticized Baker for offering the proposal in the final stages of the board’s search for a new superintendent. They also questioned the need for a takeover and the lack of public input on the bill.

“Does our school system face challenges? Yes,” said Kenneth Haines, the president of the Prince George's Educators’ Association. But Haines said critics of the school system would be hard pressed to find another school district with similar challenges that has shown steady academic improvements.

The union, which represents 9,000 teachers, guidance counselors and others, said in an e-mail to its members earlier this week that it planned to partner with other organizations to block the proposal. The Prince George’s County PTA Council also supports the school board.

Deborah Sell, a parent education advocate, said she supported a state bill that would create a task force to look at the operations of the school system because she believed “we had room for improvement.”

“I feel we have been betrayed,” said Sell, suggesting that the matter be taken up in a referendum.

Mark Spencer, who unsuccessfully ran for state’s attorney several years ago, called the legislation “unfair, unwise. . . and and naked power grab.”

The board voted 8-1 to oppose the state legislation needed to enact Baker’s plan. Member Carletta Fellows voted against the bill because she said, “Our children, our parents and our community deserve better” than the current system.

Jacobs and Baker are scheduled to meet with the Prince George’s House Delegation on Saturday to discuss the legislation.

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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