Nearly two years ago, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III tried to take over the school system and abolish the elected school board.
State lawmakers agreed to a compromise that gave Baker more influence over the schools, allowing him to hire a new schools chief, appoint three new board members and name the board’s chairman and vice chairman.
Voters who head to the polls Tuesday can decide whether to give Baker (D) even greater control over the school system, which has shown recent academic gains but is among Maryland’s worst-performing districts.
Baker has endorsed four candidates in the nonpartisan races, including two newcomers — Lupi Grady and Dinora Hernandez — to fill the seats of longtime board members Peggy Higgins and Amber Waller. Higgins and Waller are running for reelection in Districts 2 and 3, respectively.
Baker also is supporting Sonya Williams in District 9 and Carolyn Boston in District 6.
Williams was appointed in January to a seat vacated by Donna Hathaway Beck, who resigned last year. Boston, who initially fought Baker’s school takeover proposal and later embraced it, was selected by the county executive to serve as the board vice chairman.
Each is running in a contested race: Dominque Flowers is going up against Williams, and former board member Patricia Fletcher is challenging Boston.
Should Baker’s candidates win, the county executive will have been instrumental in seating most of the board members.
The issues are wide-ranging and include increasing parental and community engagement, building trust among parents, raising academic achievement, retaining quality teachers and addressing the school district’s infrastructure needs.
In District 2, Higgins, 64, a social worker, is vying for a second term. Higgins said reducing class sizes, addressing the county’s aging buildings and ensuring that “every student and not just a select group get a quality education” are her top priorities.
She said she is an advocate for parents and their children.
Grady, 41, is the deputy director of the Maryland Multicultural Youth Center and a member of Baker’s education commission. She is running because she contemplated — like some other Prince George’s parents — pulling her children out of the county’s public schools. She decided to “stay, not complain, and be part of the solution,” focusing on parental engagement.
In District 3, Waller, 66, said her past experience working in the community and on the school board will serve her well if she is elected to a third term. She said the biggest challenges facing the school district are raising student achievement and retaining qualified teachers. She wants to focus on parental engagement and improving school infrastructure.
Hernandez, 28, is a lawyer and the Latino liaison for the county executive’s office. As a product of the public school system and the child of immigrants, she said she can provide insight that the board lacks. Her priorities are expanding full-day pre-kindergarten, retaining quality teachers and casting the school board “in a better light.”
In District 6, Boston, 65, who is running for her second term. Boston defeated Fletcher, 64, four years ago.
In District 9, Williams, 46, a civil engineer, said on her campaign Web site that she wants to continue to use her experience in project and budget management to “ensure fiscal prudence” and her organizational leadership to help the school system implement effective policies. She said “budget and policy are the primary ways to affect positive change to student achievement.”
Flowers, 30, a lawyer, said he would like to use his experience as a former Prince George’s public school student coming from a low-income family to help guide his work on the board. His top priorities are to provide parents with the resources they need to “be effective parents” and give students the resources they need to be prepared for college and careers. Flowers said he wants to “take politics out of the school system. Our attention should not be serving a particular politician or party, but on what students need to succeed.”
Just 25 percent of the board’s members two years ago held college degrees, the lowest percentage of all school systems in the region. That fact raised questions about whether a board that develops policies to make students ready for college should have so many members without degrees.
With the addition of appointed members and the graduation of an elected member, the number with college degrees jumped to 10 out 13. Of those vying for office, all have bachelor’s degrees except Waller, Boston and Fletcher.