Three weeks ago Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker announced intentions to reform the governing structure of the Prince George’s County Public Schools through the legislature. With three weeks left of session and little time for citizens to have an opportunity to full vet the proposal, ask questions, debate it amongst themselves, and offer ideas, I was very concerned. While I still feel disheartened by the last minute grab this proposal seems to project, the latest compromise developed by Senator Douglas Peters that recently won approval from our senate delegation is worthy of public support.
Rushern Baker came into office in 2010 promising greater economic development, a cleaner more trust worthy government, and a culture of cooperation. Sadly much of those promises have yet to be realized. The economic development he promised has yet to yield any real fruit. The County Council begrudgingly approved a $50 million economic development fund Baker said was essential to his plan, but years later aside from a pizza location not much has happened. Why? Baker says it is because of our schools and now he must control them.
I never did and never have supported Baker’s efforts to appoint the school superintendent and make him answerable only to him. However the new compromise plan that will allow the Executive to name the new schools chief, but make that person answerable to the Board of Education is, in my mind, workable. What concerns me at least a little about this proposal is the timing. PGCPS has been without a chief already for about a year. Under the new agreement the selection process will start over from the beginning thus wasting the hundreds of thousands of dollars we’ve paid to a consulting firm to get to the point we are today. Even more the students, teachers, parents and community will be without a vision for the future even longer.
While I never supported the idea of the superintendent being named by the Executive, I have long felt and thought it would be best if the county did have authority to name members to the Board of Education. The proposal agreed to by senators gives the Executive authority to name three individuals to the Board of Education, and the County Council will get the power to name one. Despite the fact that I think the number of four is too many, I think it is still worthy of support and could, if done right, give the county the level of influence it deserves.
As this legislation moves through the final phases of final passage, we have seen that the push back the Sunday night proposal received shows there is a desire by our community to engage in the conversation on moving PGCPS forward. Sadly until now no person in leadership has brought that conversation forward. Rushern, with his proposal, did that and he does deserve our thanks. In the coming days and weeks it now becomes incumbent on the Executive to continue leading the discussion. His argument has been school reform has not moved fast enough for him, that the pace of student achievement has hampered economic development, and that our entire government needed to work together more at delivering the results Prince Georgians expect. This plan that moves the deck chairs for adults will have little real and direct impact in the classroom. We need to see a vision of what reform in our community should and will look like. The Executive should provide that. We need to see how he plans to work in a more collaborative spirit with a board he has just went to war with. We deserve to know what he wants the county to offer and what the school system must offer in the area of wrap around services that meet the needs of parents and students.
Everyday in Prince George’s County there is great education happening in classrooms all over the system. Sadly what is not reported by the news or even promoted by our Executive is the bulk of our student body, achieves at or better than just about every other student in this region within their demographic group. What I mean by that is African American students, specifically boys, in Prince George’s County achieve at a level that is equal or better than African American students in Arlington, Fairfax, Montgomery County, and more. The issue we truthfully have to face is how we get these students to achieve better than their demographics. That will not be addressed by this legislation and that is what has been lost in this debate.
p.s. – These views do not necessarily reflect the Young Democrats of Maryland of which I am President or the Prince George’s County Young Democrats. They are my views and my views only.
Joseph Lynn Kitchen Jr. is an ordained Baptist minister from Prince George’s County, MD where he serves as a community leader on issues of education reform, public transportation and youth empowerment. Joseph is President of the Young Democrats of Maryland and National Policy and Platform Director of the Young Democrats of America’s Minority Caucus. Learn more about Joseph’s work at www.josephkitchen.com.