Five school board races are on the ballot in Prince George’s County this election season, at a time when the school system has been struggling amid fallout from child abuse cases and the loss of a $6.4 million federal grant for its Head Start early education program.
With no incumbents in the running for two of the five races, the Board of Education — which has a hand in making policy for a 130,800-student district that runs on a $1.93 billion budget — is clearly headed for change.
Nine of the 14 members are elected by county voters, one is a student member and four are appointed by county officials, a structure created in 2013 as part of an effort by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) to have more control over the school system. Baker has endorsed a candidate in each of the five nonpartisan races.
David Murray, 24, who works in investment consulting, also ran for the board in 2010 and 2012. He is essentially unopposed in the race following the withdrawal of his opponent, Raul Jurado, who said he has moved out of state but whose name will still appear on the ballot.
Murray’s top issues include incorporating financial literacy into schools, so that students better understand instruments such as credit cards and loans. “No matter what you go into, you’re going to need those skills,” he said.
Another priority is parental engagement, which he calls “a big driver in student success.”
Murray, who was endorsed by Baker and the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association, called for an outside investigation into Head Start, beyond a recently ordered state audit.
“If the board was more forthcoming and open, then we may not have lost the grant, and we could have gotten started on solving these problems sooner,” he said.
Murray served on the Maryland State Board of Education when he was a senior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School. He graduated from University of Maryland Baltimore County.
Patricia Eubanks, 55, is seeking her third term on the board. She lives in Capitol Heights; her two children are graduates of county schools.
Eubanks said her priorities include boosting early childhood education and parental involvement. She is passionate about the need for parents at every income level to be involved with schools, and says she would like to offer preschool to more children at younger ages.
On abuses in Head Start, Eubanks said the district should have acted with greater urgency and held employees to higher levels of accountability. A state audit will spotlight areas not handled correctly, she said, and the school system can use those findings to improve its oversight.
Eubanks, who was endorsed by Baker, said she has taken classes at University of Maryland University College and Trinity in Washington, D.C., but does not have a college degree.
Abel Olivo, 42, a stay-at-home father of two, lives in Cheverly and has a career background in government relations. His top issues are ensuring the safety of students and increasing community and family engagement with schools.
“When someone speaks up, we need to make sure they are heard,” he said, adding that all members of the school community — principals, teachers, support staff, board members — need to be “present, engaged and responsive.”
As he has campaigned, Olivo said, he has heard from many county residents who are upset with the school system’s handling of Head Start. “The public’s trust is gone, and that is unfortunate,” he said. “We need to restore that trust.”
A graduate of Ohio State University, Olivo has been an active school and community volunteer. He serves on the board of the Cheverly Parent Resource Center, and has been involved in PTA work and taught English classes at St. Ambrose Catholic Church.
Raaheela Ahmed, 23, who does financial consulting for federal agencies, lives in Bowie and is making her second try for a school board seat. Her top issues are transparency and accountability, community engagement and school safety.
As she and her campaign volunteers have talked to residents — visiting 5,000 homes over the summer, she said — the biggest issue was whether the district is being managed properly: “A lot of people were concerned about oversight,” she said.
Looking at the Head Start and abuse scandals, Ahmed said: “I think it comes down to being reactive, as opposed to proactive, and I think that’s a deep cultural issue we have with our school system.” Ahmed said she thinks the state audit of Head Start is a positive step but should have been approved more quickly.
“It shouldn’t take that much effort to fight for something like that,” she said. “We should be willing to be transparent and see what went wrong.”
A 2011 graduate of Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Ahmed — who has been endorsed by the teachers union — earned two bachelor’s degrees from the University of Maryland at College Park. She said she would push for a more interactive budget website and an evaluation of programs to see which are most effective.
Cheryl Landis, 62, a 27-year school system employee from Upper Marlboro who retired this week , is making her first run for office. Landis spent 17 years working in the school board offices, and more recently focused on partnerships with businesses, nonprofits and community groups.
Landis is a former chair of the Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee and has been endorsed by Baker. She says one of her top concerns is how the board operates and works with the superintendent and community. “The board must be functional, not dysfunctional. They must work as a unit.”
Of recent abuse scandals, Landis said the board should hold the administration accountable for acting on safety task force recommendations. She said she would like updates on progress quarterly, not yearly. She also would push for a volunteer coordinator position and a process to track where volunteers are working within the system.
Landis, mother of a school system graduate, said she would work to ensure schools in her district have a fully engaged PTA and would help foster partnerships between District 5 schools and area businesses and nonprofit groups. She is a high school graduate.
John E. Richardson, 52, a former teacher and assistant principal, lives in Forestville and works as a permit specialist and snow route inspector for the county department of public works and transportation. He is making his second bid for school board.
His top issues are academic achievement and improved communications. More than 20 percent of ninth-graders at three high schools in his district are retained each year, he said. “I would like to improve the promotion rates.”
On abuse scandals, Richardson said the school system has taken steps to improve, but more can be done. He would focus on extensive background checks and training: “The more people know what to look for, the more we can stop it before it happens.”
Richardson said he brings 17 years’ experience as an educator to his quest for public office; he left D.C. public schools in 2009 amid a reduction in force.
Over the years, he has held church leadership positions and served in the Marine Corps Reserve. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of District of Columbia and a master’s from National Louis University.
K. Alexander Wallace, 25, an incumbent who has worked in policy analysis, lives in Upper Marlboro. He was appointed to the board last year by Baker, and has the backing of the county executive and the teachers union in his bid for an elected term.
Wallace says his top issues include introducing career and technology education programs to middle schools, to help students make the transition to high school. He also wants to seek the involvement of alumni and encourage them to give their time and talent to schools.
He said he was disgusted to hear about the Head Start abuse allegations and added, “We have to be much stronger in our approach to rooting out bad apples and bad actors.”
Wallace said he does not support calls for the resignation of board leaders or schools chief Kevin Maxwell, and said Maxwell’s contract should be renewed. “I truly appreciate his dedication to his home county,” he said.
Wallace earned a bachelor’s degree at Towson University and a master’s degree at University of Baltimore. He was a policy fellow at the Education Trust and worked in the office of state Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George’s).
Edward Burroughs III, 24, an incumbent from Temple Hills, works as a director of business development for a company that runs food service programs. He joined the board as a student member, serving for two years before graduating in 2010 from Crossland High School. Since then, he has been elected to two more terms. He graduated from University of Maryland Baltimore County.
Burroughs, who was endorsed by the teachers union, says his priorities are accountability and transparency. He wants an external investigation into how the school system handled problems in Head Start and why it took so long to discipline the employees involved. He was among the five school board members who called for the resignation of top board leaders following the crisis and, more recently, for Maxwell to step down.
“We have a leadership issue and an accountability issue. More money alone is not going to solve the problem,” Burroughs said. He wants to focus on special education and says he will continue to push for adding math and reading specialists for the 25 lowest-performing schools.
Stephanie Hinton, 52, a fifth-grade teacher from Temple Hills, is a first-time candidate. Her priorities include working to reduce class sizes in schools and retain quality teachers in the district.
“I see teachers leaving mid-year . . . because they are being offered better pay in other districts,” she said.
Hinton, who was endorsed by Baker, said that recent abuse scandals are a major concern and that the county “needs to be proactive.” When problems do arise, she said, “the investigations need to happen more rapidly as well as consequences.”
Too many teachers are idling on administrative leave amid reports of possible abuse or neglect, Hinton said: “If they are guilty, they need to be fired. And if they are not guilty, they need to be back in the classroom. We can’t keep people in limbo.”
Hinton’s career in education spans 20 years, including seven in county schools, several in Catholic schools and a period as owner of a tutoring service. In her 20s, she was a military police officer in the Army. She graduated from the University of Maryland at College Park.