The school system in Prince George’s County — beset by scandal and acrimony over a big payout to the former chief executive — moved a step further this week from its recent controversies as a new leader took the helm for the coming year and one school board member dropped his request for a restraining order against another.
First, longtime educator Monica Goldson was tapped as interim chief executive, having already begun forging plans to cut back on executive staff, steer more money to schools and find ways to boost employee pay.
Then attorneys for school board member Edward Burroughs III and Chairman Segun C. Eubanks confirmed the end of a court case that could have produced more embarrassment for a system already fatigued by it.
“We don’t want the drama,” said Lori Morrow, a mother of two and longtime education advocate who voiced cautious optimism about Goldson’s early efforts. “We just want it to work.”
Her sentiment follows a particularly tense couple of weeks that started July 12 as the school board gave embattled chief executive Kevin Maxwell a payout of nearly $800,000 following scandals over pay raises and inflated graduation rates that eroded his support.
That night, school board member David Murray called for the school board chairman to resign. Burroughs supported the idea.
After the meeting, Burroughs said he was summoned to a board room out of public view, where he said Eubanks pushed him against a bookcase, pointed his finger “in and on” his face and yelled, “I will f--- you up” several times. Later that night, Burroughs sought the restraining order and lodged an assault complaint.
A hearing on the restraining order was set for Tuesday, with witnesses expected to testify for both sides in what could have been another divisive spectacle.
Instead, Burroughs asked a court to drop his bid for a restraining order against Eubanks. Neither side discussed whether an agreement was reached. But Burroughs cited a Monday phone call with Eubanks and lawyers for both sides as having made a difference. He did not provide details.
“I am pleased that we have reached a resolution and that this will never happen again,” Burroughs said. “My major concern is serving without the fear of being attacked when there is a disagreement, and I think that fear has been alleviated as of this time.”
Eubanks’s attorney, Bruce Marcus, provided a brief statement.
“On behalf of our client, we are pleased that the matters involving Dr. Eubanks and Mr. Burroughs have been put to rest,” he said. “Dr. Eubanks looks forward to returning his full attention and focus to the citizens and school children of Prince George’s County.”
Eubanks, who has not commented on the allegations, said Monday evening that he had nothing to add beyond what his attorney said.
Burroughs’s attorney, Judith Danso, issued a short statement as well. “A resolution has been reached, and Mr. Burroughs has decided to focus on the matter of importance, which is serving the parents, students and residents of Prince George’s County,” she said.
Burroughs said he has not decided whether to pursue the assault charge against Eubanks. That complaint must undergo a screening process, according to the state’s attorney’s office. Burroughs would have to appear on a set date, and prosecutors would have to find sufficient evidence.
But Burroughs said this week he also is looking to put the incident behind him. He said he has been talking to Goldson about making improvements in the 132,000-student school system, the state’s second largest, and says he has found Goldson to be responsive and a “willing partner.”
Goldson spoke at a Monday event, when County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) announced her appointment to the interim post. A 27-year educator who rose through the ranks in Prince George’s, she was recently a deputy superintendent.
She promised to listen and stay engaged. She pledged accountability.
“We have to regain the trust of our community and our parents,” she said. “In order to do that, we have to do what we say we’re going to do.”
She said she would explore ways to restore employee pay increases that were not given from 2010 to 2012, following the economic recession. And she highlighted a plan to cut about 20 executive-level positions from the central office staff, an idea that resonated broadly.
“It’s definitely a good, fresh start,” Burroughs said. “I think Monica has had a front-row seat to all of the challenges and controversies Dr. Maxwell faced. I don’t think she’ll be repeating the same mistakes.”
Several parents and community and union leaders voiced similar views, as the school system looks to regain its footing.
“This is a positive turn for the county schools,” said Murray, the school board member.
Others said they expected the district to turn a corner under a new leader.
“With Monica in place, because people have so much respect for her, they’re looking forward to working with her and supporting her,” said Doris Reed, executive director of the union representing principals and administrators.
The end of the court case may be positive too, she said. “I hope it signals that the board is going to be a board and be cohesive and work together,” she said. “What we have seen in the last five years has been divisive and embarrassing.”
Keisha Chase, an education advocate who lives in Greenbelt, said she was impressed with Goldson’s vow to reduce the size of the central office’s staff and prioritize funding to schools and teacher pay.
“It shows she’s heard what community members and parents and teachers are saying,” Chase said.
With the school board on summer break, members have some time apart before their work as a panel resumes. Murray and Burroughs still voice interest in Eubanks’s resignation. And Burroughs said he has not changed his view on the terms of Maxwell’s departure.
“I stand firm in my opposition to giving someone $800,000 that could have gone to the classroom,” he said.