Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III apologized Tuesday for surprising residents and state lawmakers with his plan to take over the county’s struggling schools but said he does not regret offering the proposal.
“At the end of the day, you are the judge of whether I made the right decision,” Baker (D) told more than 150 people who packed a conference room at the South Bowie Branch library. “We’re going to improve education in Prince George’s, and we’re going to improve on the gains that we’re making.”
The forum was held just days before a new law will go into effect that calls for a leadership overhaul and reconfigured board for Maryland’s second-largest school system. It was also the first time since the General Assembly approved the legislation that Baker formally answered questions from residents about the school governance plan.
Baker initially sought to take over the school system. Under his plan, he would have had control of the $1.7 billion schools budget and the power to hire the superintendent and make that person a member of his executive cabinet.
State lawmakers approved an amended version of the plan.
It gives Baker the ability to select the new schools chief, appoint three new members to the school board and name the board chair and vice chair. The County Council will appoint one new board member.
The county Board of Education, however, retains control of the budget.
Residents asked how the new structure would work, what type of superintendent and board members Baker wants, and how he would improve teacher retention and increase community engagement.
Baker’s education liaison Christian Rhodes said the schools superintendent, who will be known as the chief executive officer, will have greater power under the new system. The new 14-member school board, whose primary responsibility will be to improve student achievement and increase parental engagement, will need a two-thirds majority to overturn a decision made by the schools chief, Rhodes said.
Mark Weinberg, a Glenn Dale resident and one of 160 people who applied for the school board positions, asked whether Baker expected the appointed members to consult with him regularly.
“We are picking individuals that bring an expertise to the board,” said Baker, noting that the law requires applicants to have experience in education, business or finance, higher education or management. “This is not Rushern Baker’s school system. You do not work for me.”
Sylvia Robinson-Tibbs said she was leaving her job as a teacher at Charles H. Flowers High School because she “is frustrated with the way the school system does business.” Teachers are not allowed to give input, she said.
Baker said he wants open communication between employees and the new schools chief.
“We can’t fix problems if we don’t know what the problems are,” Baker said.
Other residents expressed their frustration with the system’s reputation and rapid turnover in leadership. Valdez Mumford, a parent and former principal, said, “It’s a shame that I think about moving because of the school system.”
Mumford asked Baker to find a schools chief who is committed to staying in the county. Alvin Crawley, the interim superintendent, is the school system’s seventh superintendent in 14 years.
“Don’t play games with our schools,” he said.