The Washington Post

Prince George's school board rescinds vote against state bills

The Prince George’s County Board of Education voted to rescind its opposition to a state bill that creates a task force to study the composition of the school board and another measure that requires the installation of artificial turf fields at county high schools.

The Thursday night vote occurred two weeks after the board voted against the measures. The votes were 8 to 2, with board members Donna Hathaway Beck (District 9) and Edward Burroughs III (District 8) voting to oppose.

The sponsors of the two bills have been lobbying board members to change their vote to help gain passage in the General Assembly. They also have offered amendments that they hope will ultimately gain the board’s support of the measures.

School Board Chairman Verjeana Jacobs (District 5) said she has spent two weeks encouraging her colleagues to reconsider their position on the bill sponsored by Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D-Prince George’s) to form a task force to study the school board and its operations.

Jacobs said she still has reservations about the makeup of the task force, which would include members from the General Assembly, school board and unions. But she also does not want to give the impression that the board does not want a meaningful discussion about its composition, operations and what helps make up an “effective board.”

“We don’t want that message that we don’t want a review,” Jacobs said. “It is good to take a look at yourself.”

The board has come under scrutiny in recent months after one member was forced to resign after it was reported that she had been living outside of her district, in violation of state law, and a report pointed out that few members of the board have college degrees, unusual among school boards in the Washington region and across the country.

Valentino-Smith told the board Thursday night that she has submitted several changes to her original bill, including removing the task force’s charge to discuss how board members are selected and its review of the racial and gender diversity of the board. She also added three members to the panel.

According to original bill, the task force would study and make recommendations on the qualifications and compensation of board members; the methods for selecting members; the racial and gender diversity of the board; the criteria for accountability, oversight and outcomes; and a protocol for board audits; and addressing audit findings.

Burroughs said the board needs to be focused on the selection of the new school superintendent, not having discussions about its work and who sits on the board.

Beck said she voted against changing her vote because she thinks it opens the door to going back to an appointed board.

Len Lucchi, the board’s lobbyist, told members that Del. Jay Walker (D-Prince George’s), who is sponsoring the turf field bill, is reviewing how Anne Arundel County paid for its fields. Walker’s original bill would have cost the school system $18 million to have the turf fields installed by 2018.

Lucchi said Walker is considering an amendment that would require the money to come from county or open-space funding.

County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) has not take a position on either piece of legislation, according to Christian Rhodes, his education liaison.

Ovetta Wiggins covers Maryland state politics in Annapolis.

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