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Senate Raises Pressure on Pr. George's to Drop New Offices or Lose $36 Million

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By Rosalind S. Helderman and Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, April 3, 2009

For months, the Prince George's County Board of Education has taken heat for leasing a new headquarters building during an economic downturn that has led to school closures and job losses.

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Now the state Senate has upped the ante: Give up the $36 million headquarters, the Senate said yesterday, or lose $36 million in school funding.

"The economic condition does not really afford them to move ahead," Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George's) said as he proposed the amendment to the state budget calling for reduced funding if the county forges ahead with the move.

The Board of Education decided this summer to move its offices from a decrepit former school to a pair of leased office buildings called Washington Plaza.

Advocates on the school board, which backed the plan in a contentious 6 to 4 vote, said the move would save money over the long run by consolidating scattered offices and give parents and staff a single place to go for business, as well as more attractive lodgings than in the aging Sasscer Administration Building in Upper Marlboro.

Two board members said yesterday that they were infuriated by the Senate's action.

Rosalind Johnson (District 1) called the decision "unconscionable" and said she believes the state is usurping the board's authority to make independent decisions.

"Home rule in Prince George's County, electing their own members of the board, it cuts it," she said of the Senate's action. "It says, 'You can elect somebody, but we'll neuter them.' "

Of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), who had called the purchase "morally wrong" in a December letter to county leaders, Johnson said: "He is a person. He's not God."

Miller represents part of Prince George's.

Board of Education member Pat Fletcher (District 3) called the decision wrong.

"I wouldn't go down there and tell them how to do their job. I wouldn't," she said.


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