Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III says "significant systemic changes are coming" to the county's public school system as a result of a state-ordered audit that found evidence of grade-tampering that resulted in an inflated number of high school graduates.
Baker, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for Maryland governor in 2018, was awarded partial control of the troubled school system in 2013 and has touted improved test scores and graduation rates as one of his significant accomplishments.
After Gov. Larry Hogan (R) accused the county of ignoring the audit, Baker said his administration is working with schools chief Kevin Maxwell and plans to implement changes.
"When the findings came in and found widespread wrongdoing, the county and the school system refused to take it seriously," Hogan told reporters Thursday after a groundbreaking ceremony for a hospital in Prince George's. "They refused to do anything."
Baker, who stood nearby but out of earshot of Hogan’s remarks, later countered that the Nov. 3 report gave Prince George’s officials, including Maxwell, until early January to come up with a plan.
“I don’t know what the governor is talking about,” Baker said. “The report said the school system has 60 days to respond. . . . We are continuing to meet with Dr. Maxwell and his senior staff.”
A spokesman for the schools system, John White, said Friday that changes would include efforts to strengthen grading policies, but he declined to provide details. White said Maxwell and his team will present their action plan at a Board of Education meeting Dec. 19. As of now, school guidance counselors are counting credits and reviewing transcripts to make sure they are accurate.
The school system is not willing, White said, to wade into the politics surrounding the audit.
Four members of the Prince George's school board who are frequently critical of Maxwell and Baker first alleged in May that students were graduating without meeting requirements. They sent a letter to Hogan, asking him to intervene.
The probe resulted in a 211-page report outlining dozens of cases of grade-tampering that validated some of the allegations but did not find evidence that Maxwell had ordered those changes in any systemic way.
“We’ve always admitted we had challenges,” Baker said.
A similar probe could be forthcoming in the District after a report by American University radio station WAMU and NPR this week that said many students at Ballou Senior High School in Southeast Washington were allowed to graduate after missing weeks of class and scoring extremely low on standardized tests.
Also Thursday, the Prince George’s chapter of the NAACP sent a letter to the governor, demanding a meeting to discuss ways to hold the Prince George’s school system and officials accountable.
The NAACP is “pleading with us to get involved and take it to the next level,” Hogan said Thursday.
He also said state lawmakers from Prince George's had "disappeared" from the debate after urging state education officials in June to launch their investigation — a claim that Del. Jay Walker (D-Prince George's), who chairs the legislative delegation, strongly denied.
“He has no idea what he’s talking about,” Walker said, adding that he has met with Maxwell and Baker and that the delegation’s education committee has convened meetings on the grades issue. Hogan, he said, “is looking for a sound bite and not dealing with facts.”
Baker said he was not surprised by the NAACP letter, because the organization had also opposed his push to change the structure of the school system, which resulted in him gaining the power to select the superintendent. The group participated in a rally in June demanding an investigation into the allegations of grade-tampering.
Whatever changes are coming for the county schools, Baker said, it will not include a change at the top. He said he has confidence in Maxwell “to move this school system forward. . . . We are going to stay on him. We have challenges, but we are also achieving big things.”