The proposal comes after years of turmoil in Maryland’s second-largest school system, which has seen rapid turnover of its superintendents and only modest improvement in student performance as it languishes near the bottom of statewide rankings.
Although Prince George’s is one of the wealthiest predominantly African American counties in America — and neighboring Montgomery and Howard counties have what are considered elite systems — its schools have struggled with performance and politics.
Events in recent months have highlighted the problems facing county schools. In September, William R. Hite Jr. — the county’s fifth superintendent in 10 years — left to become Philadelphia’s schools chief. Other top administrators soon departed. In the meantime, one member of the Board of Education was found to be serving on the board illegally; the board censured a new member for her outspoken criticisms; and parents, other residents and state lawmakers have raised questions about transparency and the ability of the board — most of whose members do not have college degrees — to lead the 123,000-student system.
In recent months, parents have also complained about their children being picked up late for school because of a shortage of bus drivers and about changes in transportation policy.
Baker, who says good schools are crucial to luring new residents and promoting economic development, has been critical of the system’s progress. An immediate and permanent change is required, Baker said in a recent interview.
“I clearly didn’t think the structure we had in the school system worked from the first day I came in here,” Baker said. “But I wanted to try as hard as I could from an executive standpoint — not from a legislative standpoint like I did in years past — to see, in fact, if you could bring the bully pulpit of the county executive’s office and force change that way.
“You can do it, but you can only take it so far,” Baker said. “I think in order to have real sustained change that will outlast this administration, you’ve got to restructure it.”
Baker said he is moving forward with the proposed takeover now because the school system is looking to hire a superintendent and he believes that residents should have someone — the county executive — to hold accountable for the schools. If approved, the new structure would give the next superintendent immensely more power, as that person would answer directly to the county executive, county officials said.