Several central-office employees received hefty, unauthorized raises in Maryland’s second-biggest school system even as a teacher pay increase was recently rejected, members of the Prince George’s County school board alleged Wednesday.
Three board members who form a minority bloc are seeking “immediate intervention” by Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) to address raises they call improper. In a letter to Baker, the board members say the employees received pay hikes of 10 to 12 percent.
“In our view, there is a serious lack of basic oversight and accountability at the highest levels of the school system,” said the letter, which asserted that the actions could have taken place only under the direction of Kevin Maxwell, chief executive of Prince George’s schools, or his top subordinates.
A school district spokesman referred questions about the purported raises to Baker’s office. A representative of the county executive said Baker’s office received the letter by email at 10:56 a.m. Wednesday after media reports had begun to surface.
“Like all correspondence the county executive’s office receives, this letter will be reviewed and responded to,” spokesman Scott Peterson said, offering no further comment.
The letter from the board members also pointed to “reports” of raises to Maxwell’s cabinet, saying that while such raises are under Maxwell’s purview, “we are concerned about the message this sends to other hard-working employees in our school system, especially our teachers.”
The request for Baker to intervene is the latest controversy in the Prince George’s school system, which is reeling from a diploma scandal that last week led the state board of education to assign a full-time employee to monitor corrective efforts.
And it represents another flash point as Baker faces multiple opponents in his bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. If he prevails, he would face Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who is seeking reelection, in November.
Last week, Hogan said Baker should fire Maxwell — a move Baker scoffed at, saying it was a “purely political” suggestion he did not take seriously.
The letter sent to Baker noted that the county school board had turned down a February proposal from the board’s minority bloc that would have “equated to” a 4 percent raise for teachers.
At the same time, it alleged, there are central-office staff members who got three unauthorized increases in a three-month period.
Theresa Mitchell Dudley, president of the 10,500-member Prince George’s County Educators’ Association, said that she was seeking information about the allegations and that members of her union were voicing concerns.
Dudley noted that in recent weeks, her members voted to show no confidence in the structure of the school system, which allows the county executive to appoint the school board’s chairman and vice chairman, as well as the chief executive of the school district.
She blamed that structure for an array of controversies the Prince George’s school system has faced.
“There are no checks and balances,” she said, and dissenting voices have few places to seek recourse except the media. “That’s where it’s ending up for every problem,” she said. “If Rushern thinks he’s going to become governor, he needs to clean this mess up.”
While not commenting on the allegations, a school district spokesman said Wednesday that two audits referenced in the letter are ongoing.
Members of the board minority said their proposal was intended to recoup some of the ground lost in previous years as budget shortfalls precluded raises. They said whistleblowers came forward with information about alleged central-office raises.
“Actions like this undoubtedly have an impact on employee morale, and I’m frustrated by the lack of oversight and accountability at the top,” said Edward Burroughs III, a school board member who has been a critic of Maxwell’s and is part of the minority faction.
David Murray, another member of the bloc, said he hoped Baker would step in.
“We hope he’ll take corrective action, since he’s essentially one of the only people who can hold the system accountable,” he said.
Murray, who works as a teacher in neighboring D.C., called the alleged central-office raises “a slap in the face” for teachers. “We always hear about how there’s no money,” he said. “But apparently there’s money to arbitrarily give out central-office raises.”