Gubernatorial candidate Rushern L. Baker III is facing calls to fire his handpicked schools chief from both Democratic rival Ben Jealous and incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan (R), the latest sign that scandals in the Prince George’s school system could be a weakness for Baker — now serving his eighth year as county executive — on the campaign trail.
The school system has been roiled by a state investigation into grade-tampering, which prompted Hogan to say last week that Baker should have fired schools chief executive Kevin Maxwell “a long time ago.”
On Wednesday, a minority bloc of the Prince George’s County Board of Education leveled a new set of allegations: that several central-office employees received large, unauthorized pay raises even as a board majority rejected a budget amendment, proposed by the minority bloc, that they said would have increased teacher pay by about 4 percent.
That prompted Jealous, a former NAACP chief who has been critical of the response to the grade-tampering scandal, to call for Maxwell’s ouster.
“There is a clear and well-established pattern of gross negligence that is undermining confidence in the current leadership’s ability to respond to this crisis,” said Jealous, whose children attend public school in neighboring Montgomery County. “The buck stops with the CEO.”
Maxwell, through his spokesman, declined to comment on Jealous’s statement. He said this week that he was “completely taken aback” by Hogan’s call for his ouster. “It’s clear that the governor is running for reelection, and that my county executive is running for governor,” Maxwell said.
Baker told Prince George’s County Community Television on Thursday that he has not “seen anything that has happened in our school system that would cause me to believe Dr. Maxwell is not moving our school system in the right direction.”
His campaign spokeswoman, Madeleine Russak, said Baker has successfully pushed for raises for teachers and principals during his tenure and has increased enrollment and lowered the dropout rate.
“Three things you can count on in life: death; taxes; and politicians calling for the resignation of the Prince George’s County School’s CEO during an election year,” Russak said in a statement. “Flippant and irresponsible intervention into the management of a complex system — one with such a huge impact on the lives of children and parents — ignores the progress achieved during the last five years.”
Baker and Jealous are considered two of the top contenders in the seven-person Democratic Party race to challenge Hogan in November. Baker led a recent Goucher College poll with 19 percent support, followed by Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz with 12 percent and Jealous with 10 percent.
But the contest remains wide open with more than three months left until the June 26 primary. The Goucher poll found that nearly half of Democrats who are likely to vote say they have no preference so far among the candidates in the race.
Former congresswoman Donna F. Edwards, who is among the Democrats vying to replace Baker as county executive, joined Jealous Thursday in calling for Maxwell to be removed.
Edwards, who has been critical of Baker’s education policies, called the pay-raise allegations “shameful” and said “it’s no wonder we’re losing talent to other jurisdictions.”
A state investigation in November found that grades were changed days before graduation for nearly 5,500 students during the past two years. Last month, the Maryland State Board of Education took the unusual step of assigning a full-time employee to track the county’s efforts to address the problem.
Jealous said the situation in Prince George’s has “glaring” similarities to that in the District, where Chancellor Antwan Wilson was forced to resign last month amid widespread attendance failures and revelations that Wilson skirted the city’s competitive lottery system so his daughter could transfer to a high-performing school.