The Prince George’s County school system — operating under a new governance structure for the past six months — has hired a new superintendent, gained six new school board members and is pushing forward with plans to reinvent itself, according to a new report submitted to state lawmakers.
Following last year’s overhaul initiated by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), the county schools now plan to reestablish a parent and community advisory council to increase parent engagement, hire a board liaison to work with the community and the administration, and work with the county government to create a legislative agenda and reduce spending.
“We’re still going through growing pains,” Board Chairman Segun Eubanks said of the transition from an elected board to a hybrid board with government oversight. “But I am pleasantly surprised at what we have been able to accomplish.”
The plans for the district were outlined in a report recently submitted to state lawmakers about the school system’s new governance structure, a report required under a law the General Assembly approved last year. The law gave Baker the power to choose the schools chief, name three appointed board members and select the board chair and vice chair.
Baker has since hired Kevin M. Maxwell, the former Anne Arundel County superintendent and a finalist for a national superintendent of the year award, to run the school system. After two resignations, Baker has appointed five board members. In December, the board entered into a one-year agreement with a corporate foundation to address the challenges it was facing with the reconfigured board.
Some board members said the report highlights ongoing tension and lack of collaboration on the board, tension the legislation aimed to address but appears to be continuing.
According to the legislation, the county executive, the schools chief and the school board were charged with providing a report to members of the General Assembly about how the transition from an elected board to a hybrid with government oversight was working after six months.
Several board members said they had no input on the report and were not made aware of its contents until after it was presented to state lawmakers. Eubanks said four board members — two appointed and two elected — worked on the report.
“The board was never consulted. It’s difficult to gauge what members would have wanted because we didn’t discuss it at all,” said school board member Edward Burroughs III (District 8). Burroughs said the report offered a rosy picture of what has been a rocky transition.
“It seems to me that there is such a push to display that everything is working perfectly” that the full story is not told, Burroughs said. “And if you are not as honest as possible, you can’t get the growth that is needed.”
School board member Verjeana M. Jacobs (District 5) said she thinks Baker pushed for the legislation because of a perception that student achievement was not happening fast enough. But she said she doesn’t see how the report addresses that issue.
“Maybe we will see that in the transition report,” Jacobs said, referring to a report that Maxwell’s transition team is developing. “What are we going to do differently to make sure student achievement is progressing faster?”
Jacobs said board members who were opposed to Baker’s takeover attempt have come to terms with the new governance structure. But, she said, six months since the legislation took effect, some issues about the board’s new role remain unresolved.
For example, she said, the board maintains control over the county school system’s budget, but the schools chief can hire staff without board approval.
“We don’t know how that affects the budget or how much the packages are,” Jacobs said.
Daniel Kaufman, whom Baker appointed to the board, said even though questions linger about protocol and the chief executive officer’s powers, he is optimistic about the system’s future.
“There have been some fits and starts,” Kaufman said. “I think we’re working through it and making some progress.”