WHEN SIX young people were killed within a brief period recently in Prince George’s County, County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) convened a meeting of major stakeholders. What more, he wanted to know, could be done to protect the county’s youth? But school officials he invited didn’t even show up to the meeting. For Mr. Baker, it was a last straw: one more indication that the structure for managing — and hopefully improving — county schools isn’t working as it should. Failing results are too widespread, and no one is held accountable.
Mr. Baker wants to fix that by making himself accountable. It’s a brave, sensible and overdue move. As The Post’s Ovetta Wiggins reported, the elected head of Prince George’s County is pushing for a change in law that would put him in charge of the struggling 123,000-student system. He would appoint a superintendent, subject to County Council approval, who would be a member of his cabinet. The elected nine-member school board would retain responsibility for academic policy and parental engagement, joined by six new members, including three ex officio representatives of higher education.
Mr. Baker’s bid, which he hopes the Maryland General Assembly will approve in the remaining weeks of its 2013 session, comes as the school board enters what it hoped would be the final stages of hiring a new superintendent. The county executive’s timing may be inconvenient — three finalists for the post are set to appear Tuesday at a community meeting — but he is right about the need for immediate and fundamental change.
Debate over the best method of school governance is eternal; no single way is best for every jurisdiction in every era. What’s clear, though, is that the Prince George’s way isn’t bringing the results parents have a right to expect. Despite small gains in student achievement, Prince George’s schools lag behind those in the rest of Maryland. Student enrollment is declining, and there is a lack of public confidence. Last summer William R. Hite Jr. became the second talented superintendent to leave out of frustration, in large part with a school board that is more meddling than helpful.
Mr. Baker said he didn’t seek control of the schools when he first took office because he hoped he could bring change by using the bully pulpit of his office. That has not been enough, so we hope lawmakers in Annapolis will give him the tools needed to do this important work. Mr. Baker understands that the schools need strong leadership and sustained support to achieve the turnaround that is critical to the county’s future as well as its children’s. Lawmakers should give him the chance, and voters will then know whom to hold responsible.