Six weeks after the leader of the public school system in Prince George’s County announced plans to step down, he has not submitted a resignation letter, and several school board members allege a “massive severance payment” is under consideration.
A three-member board minority bloc is calling on County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) to oppose any effort to provide severance money to embattled chief executive Kevin Maxwell, who has been embroiled in controversy for much of the past year.
“A date for Dr. Maxwell’s last day of service has not been communicated to us or the public, the board has not discussed his departure at all, and we have heard that you, and school board members appointed by you, are orchestrating a massive severance payment for Dr. Maxwell,” the minority bloc wrote in a letter sent to Baker on Wednesday.
The letter comes as Baker faces the final stretch of his campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor, with the June 26 primary less than two weeks away.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Baker said that discussion about a possible severance payment should wait until after the school year ends. The last day of classes is June 20.
“I don’t want anybody focusing on anything but children until the end of the year — until we get past all of this — and then that’s when they could talk about the settlement,” he said. “That’s going to be between the school board and Dr. Maxwell.”
Maxwell announced May 1 that he would leave his leadership post sometime after the end of the school year, a decision that came amid scandals over large pay increases to senior staff and inflated graduation rates in Maryland’s second-largest school system.
But no details were given, and school board chairman Segun Eubanks said the board would address the matter once the academic year ended.
Eubanks said Wednesday he had not seen the letter from the minority bloc and had no comment on what he believes are false and baseless allegations.
School district officials confirmed Wednesday that Maxwell has not provided a resignation letter. “He said his transition will be discussed after the school year,” said spokesman John White.
In announcing his “transition” from the school system, Maxwell said distractions had taken a toll on students, families and staff. He also noted political realities, with county executive candidates calling for a change in school-system leadership.
The letter to Baker — who handpicked Maxwell in 2013 and reappointed him last year — noted in bold letters that Maxwell’s contract does not require a severance payment and also said the board is “under no obligation to spend taxpayer dollars” for one.
A full payout of Maxwell’s contract would cost well more than $1 million, said board member Edward Burroughs III, a frequent critic of Maxwell. With three years left on a four-year contract, Maxwell earns a base salary of $299,937, and also gets raises, retirement contributions, annual leave and other benefits.
Rather than steer money to Maxwell, district efforts could be boosted instead, the letter said: expanding prekindergarten, purchasing classroom supplies and covering the cost of Advanced Placement and SAT exams.
Burroughs said he has been told by several people familiar with the situation that Maxwell is not leaving unless he is paid a severance. No transition plan has been made, he said, and no temporary leader has been tapped to take over when Maxwell leaves.
“The public was under the impression that he was resigning and there was a last day identified,” he said. “Neither of those things are true.”
David Murray, also part of the board’s minority bloc, called the wait troubling and said it appeared to be linked to the primary. Baker does not want a controversy about a pay package just before voters cast ballots, he asserted. Early voting starts this week.
“I’ve never seen a departure of a superintendent like this,” he said. “It’s very odd. We’re pretty much in limbo, at the will of Dr. Maxwell. No one knows when he’s leaving.”
Scott Peterson, a spokesman for Baker, said Burroughs provided the letter to the media before sending it to Baker. “With early voting starting tomorrow and election day just 12 days away, I’m not surprised he is delivering yet another letter to the press to sensationalize a process that he knows very well is between Dr. Maxwell and the Board of Education,” he said in a statement.
The minority bloc — which also includes Raaheela Ahmed — told Baker it is important to keep in mind what they described as “numerous examples of poor management and oversight of our county public schools during his tenure.”
They cited the district’s loss of a $6.4 million federal Head Start grant, its lack of oversight on graduation protocols and “outrageous” pay raises to “select” central-office employees. The letter also noted that poor execution of a new policy on reporting suspected abuse in schools had led to hundreds of employees being placed on administrative leave.
Last month the NAACP and union leaders spoke out about Maxwell’s departure, urging that he leave by June 30 and that a temporary replacement be named quickly.