Baker (D) was granted the authority to appoint a new schools chief by the Maryland General Assembly earlier this month. While state lawmakers did not give Baker much of what he had initially proposed — a full takeover of the school system, including control of the budget and superintendent — the ability to hire the schools chief is a responsibility that no other county executive in Maryland has.
But he will have to navigate several obstacles that could make his task more difficult, including the unusual arrangement he has been handed: Although he’ll hire the superintendent, that person will report to the school board, not him. Furthermore, the takeover bid has inflamed tensions between the county executive and the school board. Then there is the question of whether all the recent turmoil will turn off potential candidates.
And if it doesn’t work out, Baker knows there’s only one person to blame. “To make this successful, the person coming in must understand that this is now a partnership with the county executive, that their success is my success,” Baker said. “It is a test of executive authority. We are on the hot seat.”
Since he launched his takeover bid last month, Baker has been accused of usurping the school board’s authority in a surprise power grab. But he has said that nothing short of drastic change could help the school system, which has remained stuck near the bottom in student achievement in the region, with only modest gains in recent years. The superintendent he hires will be the county’s eighth in 15 years.
Since Baker took office in 2010, crime has dropped, and there has been an uptick in the local economy. But business leaders have said that without better public schools, Baker’s other key aim, luring businesses and jobs to Prince George’s, inevitably will founder.
Under the legislation passed by the General Assembly, Baker is required to make his selection from a list of three finalists that will be sent to him from a new search committee set up by the governor and the state schools chief. The legislation also allows him to appoint the school board’s chairman and vice chairman.
Alvin Crawley, the interim schools superintendent, is scheduled to depart July 1, and the search committee by law cannot begin its formal work until June 1, which could mean a temporary leader is put in place until a permanent selection is made.
Before the committee can start reviewing candidates, Baker plans to do his own recruiting. He has an obvious place to start: the list of about three dozen candidates who applied when the county’s last full-time superintendent, William R. Hite Jr., was lured away to Philadelphia. The county’s school board had whittled those candidates to three finalists when Baker announced his takeover plan, bringing the process to a halt.