Veteran Prince George’s County school board member Rosalind A. Johnson (District 1) has been living outside her district since June, which she acknowledges is a violation of a Maryland state law requiring school board members to reside in the districts they represent.
Johnson, who plans to retire from the board this fall, confirmed to The Washington Post on Monday that she moved from Laurel to New Carrollton four months ago to care for her dying mother. She said she decided not to step down from her position because the school system was dealing with other key issues, including the selection of an interim superintendent, and that her “skill set” was needed on the board.
She also said there would have been no guarantee of who might be selected to replace her on the board, nor when such an appointment would be made. Johnson said she knew that keeping her seat after the move was in violation of the law.
“I know what the rules are,” said Johnson, 68, sitting in the living room of her New Carrollton home. “I was at the end of my term. Being so close to the end, I wanted to finish out my term.”
Johnson, who had just returned from a conference in Miami over the weekend where she said she conducted official school business, said Monday that she does not plan to resign.
“I’m going to finish the term,” Johnson said. “My goal is to get through the election and to make sure no work is left undone in the district.”
The Prince George’s school board has nine elected members who live in different school board districts, and according to state law, each member must live in their district and be a registered voter in the county. Should a board member move out of their district, they are supposed to give up their seat.
“An elected county board member shall forfeit the office if the member fails to reside in the school board district from which the member was elected, unless this change is caused by a change in the boundaries of the district,” according to state statute.
Johnson answered questions Monday about her residency after The Post obtained land records that showed she was no longer living in her Laurel home.
Board Chair Verjeana Jacobs (District 5) said she did not know about Johnson’s change of address. She said Johnson told her Monday that she was living in New Carrollton, and Jacobs vowed to notify the board and the county executive and “conduct a review from our perspective.”
Jacobs said she is not sure what will happen with Johnson’s seat, which is scheduled to be filled in the general election in three weeks. Had Johnson stepped down as required by law, the seat could have been filled months ago.
“It’s a unique situation to get this information” so close to the election, Jacobs said.
Jacobs, who is seeking reelection, said she was “disappointed that this has happened at this point in [Johnson’s] career.”
“I’m sorry for Ms. Johnson,” Jacobs said. “I know she has had a lot of struggles in the last few months. Had I known, I probably would have done everything I could have done to help her stay. It still remains that she has done great things for the kids of this county, and that doesn’t go away because of this situation.”
A teacher for more than three decades and a Prince George’s resident for 58 years, Johnson was elected to the board in 2006. At the time, she was part of a group of candidates elected after the county’s appointed board was dissolved.
Johnson, who earns $18,000 a year to represent District 1, narrowly won reelection in 2010 against then-teenager David Murray. Murray is now vying for Johnson’s soon-to-be vacant seat. Johnson is backing Zabrina Epps, Murray’s opponent, in the race.
Johnson is one of the longest-serving board members in Maryland’s second-largest school system. During her time on the board, she has advocated for student achievement and equity in education for black and Hispanic students.
Her move to New Carrollton came after she lost her Laurel home in a foreclosure four months ago and shortly before her mother died, Johnson said. The foreclosure came as part of a string of financial troubles.
Johnson, who is responsible for managing a $1.6 billion budget as a member of the school board, filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 2008 after staving off foreclosure. In May 2009, Johnson’s wages from the school system were garnished $240 a month to help satisfy the bankruptcy plan, according to court documents.
Johnson said many of her financial problems stem from taking on unexpected family responsibilities and health-care costs for her mother. “I was having to pay my mother’s bills,” she said. “I had to let my house go.”
Council member Mary Lehman (D-Laurel) said that if Johnson has moved, she needs to give up her seat.
“I’m sorry to hear about her circumstances,” said Lehman, who represents Johnson’s legislative district on the council. “But if she moved out of the district . . . it’s just not fair. The losers are the students and the families in District 1.”
Researcher Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.