At a Prince George's County PTA meeting this week, top school system officials spoke with the association's local president on how to draw more parents into public schools. Simultaneously, other county PTA officers were meeting a few miles away to discuss how to oust the president.
The dueling meetings and agendas underscored that the leadership of the county's PTA council has fallen into disarray for the second time in five years. In 2000, the state PTA disbanded a Prince George's council considered dysfunctional. Another council soon replaced it. The latest infighting comes at a critical time for a school system that has suffered from inconsistent parental support.
The county Board of Education is searching for a new schools chief to lead Maryland's second-largest school system after Andre J. Hornsby resigned amid an ethics controversy. Next year, the school board itself will be replaced in countywide elections. In addition, many of the county's 199 schools urgently need parental help to improve their physical condition and academic performance.
Yet the question of the moment for the Prince George's County Council of PTAs is whether parent-activist Darren Brown should serve the two-year term as council president he won in May in an internal PTA election. Brown said he intends to carry on despite the efforts to remove him. "Most people that know me know I'm a person of character and integrity," he said in a telephone interview. "I'm all about kids."
Brown, 45, resigned a separate post this month -- president of the parent-teacher-student association at Charles Herbert Flowers High -- after the bumpy beginning of a mandatory student uniform policy at the Springdale school. Brown was deeply involved in procuring the school's uniforms, and a company owned by his brother helped with clothing measurements. For reasons that are unclear, some uniform deliveries were delayed. But no school or PTA officials have blamed Brown publicly for any foul-ups.
Two PTA officers critical of Brown declined to discuss the Flowers episode. They said they have taken offense at Brown's leadership manner since he took the helm of the PTA council in the summer. "There's very much a sense of this guy having a dictatorial style," said Mary Lehman, a member of the PTA council's executive board and an education aide to County Council Vice Chairman Thomas E. Dernoga (D-Laurel).
Walter Searcy, first vice president of the PTA council, yesterday criticized what he called Brown's "uses of the word 'I,' the personal pronoun, all the time. It's 'me,' about 'me.' 'I'm the president.' " Searcy would be in line to succeed Brown if he is removed.
Lehman, Searcy and some other PTA council officers met Tuesday evening at Robert R. Gray Elementary School to discuss Brown's removal; a vote to do so, which would require a two-thirds majority of the council's executive board, could occur as early as November. State PTA officials accompanied them, including Mary Jo Neil, the state PTA's first vice president.
Neil said in a telephone interview yesterday that the state association was seeking to help county PTA leadership become "an effective and efficient board that follows PTA procedures." She said the state PTA was not taking sides in the leadership dispute.
Brown was not at Gray Elementary on Tuesday. Instead, he called a PTA council executive board meeting at Largo High School. It appeared, at first, to be sparsely attended. Brown stood in a hallway to greet interim schools chief Howard A. Burnett, school board Chairman Beatrice P. Tignor (Upper Marlboro) and school board member Judy Mickens-Murray (Upper Marlboro). He ushered them into a room to talk about parent-school initiatives.
Asked about the internal PTA split, Tignor said in an interview: "I certainly won't become involved in their leadership decisions. No way."
Mickens-Murray, a former county PTA president who supports Brown, criticized the state PTA's involvement. "Is he being sabotaged?" she asked.