May 6, 2013

THE BITTER fight over empowering Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III to manage the county’s public education system sadly isn’t over. An effort — apparently with some support from the school board — has been launched to overturn the law that gave Mr. Baker new authority in overseeing education. We guess it was too much to hope that those who profess to care about student needs would actually work with Mr. Baker to improve schools rather than launch another power struggle at a critical time.

Citizens for an Elected Board has started a petition drive seeking to block the law, set to go into effect June 1, which would authorize Mr. Baker to select the school superintendent, appoint three new school board members and name the board’s chairman and vice chairman. The elected school board would still retain substantial authority over the budget. Citizens for an Elected Board is trying to collect about 8,000 signatures by the end of the month to block the law and then another 23,195 by June 30 to put it up for a countywide referendum in the November 2014 general election.

The group’s efforts got a boost when, as The Post’s Ovetta Wiggins reported, the school system sent out an e-mail advertising last week’s organizing meeting. That “crossed the line” between government and political activism, in the view of government watchdog Common Cause Maryland. School board chairman Verjeana Jacobs told us the e-mail was sent out by someone in the communications department, it was circulated without her or the board’s knowledge and too much fuss was being made about it. After all, she told us, the board had opposed the county executive’s takeover during the recent General Assembly and “the issue isn’t over.”

Ms. Jacobs is right that citizens always have the right to weigh in via a referendum. But it’s hard to see how the Prince George’s schools, still struggling despite some improvement, would benefit from the continuation of a fight likely to delay, if not irrevocably impair, the search for a new superintendent. As it stands, the system has been without permanent leadership since the departure last year of superintendent William R. Hite Jr. Would any superintendent worth his salt want to come to Prince George’s under such charged circumstances? Does anyone really think school reform would be possible with the county executive and school board battling over this referendum?

Prince George’s residents asked to sign these petitions should think seriously whether they want to waste time and resources refighting old battles, or give Mr. Baker the chance he’s requested to make a difference in schools.