It was the first major vote on an initiative proposed by Maxwell since he took the reins of the school system in August. The tense debate was also the first public clash between the board and the new administration since a new governance structure has taken shape.
Maxwell, who didn’t attend the meeting, said Friday that he thinks that the opposition from the board over what is traditionally a “routine” request from a school superintendent is rooted in a continued resentment over the new governance structure.
“This board has had a history; that’s what led to this law change,” he said. “This board has tried to micromanage. I intend to state my priorities. While some people think I have not been clear, this is indeed a statement” about priorities.
Board of Education members Edward Burroughs III (District 8) and Peggy Higgins (District 2) voted against the changes. Zabrina Epps (District 1) and Lyn J. Mundey (District 7) abstained. Verjeana M. Jacobs (District 5) was not present for the vote and Patricia Eubanks (District 4) and Daniel Kaufman did not attend the meeting. The remaining five members voted for the changes.
Burroughs said he opposed the request because the board was asked to approve what appeared to be new budget initiatives before Maxwell had formally introduced his fiscal plan. He said he also had concerns with some of the priorities included in the request.
For example, Burroughs said Maxwell’s plan to spend $778,000 on 10 new art teachers and $130,000 for applied teachers for the Suitland Visual and Performing Arts program was not “data driven,” given the district’s need to improve reading and math scores.
“I’m not saying it’s not a priority,” Burroughs said, referring to the art program. “But we have more urgent priorities.”
Maxwell said Friday that he is committed to improving the district’s art education and environmental literacy programs. His request included $1.1 million for the William Schmidt Center.
“Districts across this country have cut back on art education as they have tried to put more time into reading and math,” Maxwell said. “I believe the balance is very important.”
Maxwell said some students receive art instruction once every nine weeks, adding, “I don’t think that’s enough.”
Board of Education member Curtis Valentine, who voted in favor of the request, said he thought it was important to allow Maxwell to move forward with his initiatives, especially because parents have expressed a desire to see change in the struggling school system.