Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) has asked the state’s top school officials to “immediately” review ethics allegations that have roiled the county Board of Education.
In a statement issued after a small group of parents and community leaders held a rally Monday, Alsobrooks said she lacked the ability “to force adults to set aside their differences to act in the best interest of our children.”
She also said she lacked the power to make public the recently completed ethics investigation that looked into conflict-of-interest charges against seven members of the county school board.
“But the State Board of Education does” have those powers, Alsobrooks declared.
“I am calling on the leadership of the State Board to immediately review the Ethics Panel report and make a decision based on the findings as soon as possible.”
Under state law, the Prince George’s county executive has the power to appoint the chairperson of the 14-member board, but she lacks the authority to remove members.
A spokesperson said Tuesday that the Maryland State Board of Education had not yet received an appeal of the ethics report; state law provides a 30-day window after a local board’s decision for an appeal to be filed at the state level.
Maryland Matters reported last week that the panel found credible evidence to support three allegations of wrongdoing.
One complaint alleged that a group of board members sought to greatly expand a school system labor agreement after receiving campaign contributions from a union that stood to benefit from the move.
A second complaint alleged that board members sought to expand the panel’s staff by eliminating positions held by long-serving employees and creating new positions for associates.
And a third allegation charged the board with hiring an Annapolis lobbyist to convert the Prince George’s Board of Education into an all-elected body. (The board is made up of nine elected and four appointed members. There is also a student member.)
The members accused of wrongdoing vigorously reject the allegations. Several have hired attorneys.
One of the attorneys, former State’s Attorney Glenn F. Ivey (D), called the ethics findings “politically motivated” and said they “can easily be proven false with information anyone can find online.”
“They would be laughable if they didn’t have the serious impact of slandering the reputation of elected officials who have successfully passed many policies to help students, teachers, and parents,” Ivey said in a statement released early Wednesday.
Among the errors contained in the ethics findings, the former prosecutor said, the ethics committee misstated the action the board took earlier in the year to expand a 2020 labor agreement.
“The ethics report claims board members voted to give an exclusive contract to a union, but the board simply passed a non-binding resolution encouraging good wages and benefits for laborers,” Ivey said.
“The report says it was unethical for the board to hire its own lobbyist, but the board has repeatedly hired lobbyists over the past 15 years. Lastly, the report claims that the Board hired unqualified staff, but [the Office of Human Resources] independently determined in advance that all of the new hires were qualified for their positions.”
“Weaponizing the ethics process is an unfair abuse of power, undermines democracy and distracts from the primary mission of educating our children.”
The Ivey statement represented the group’s strongest pushback to date against the allegations.
A second lawyer working for the subjects of the ethic probe sought a temporary restraining order to block the full board from considering the ethics report on the grounds that the charges were specious and that the leak tainted the probe. A judge rejected his request.
A board meeting last week devolved into chaos when the panel’s chairwoman, Juanita D. Miller, an Alsobrooks appointee, was unable to marshal enough votes to accept the ethics findings.
After a lengthy and acrimonious debate, the board adjourned around 11 p.m. without taking action.
The turmoil has alarmed some county leaders and parents.
In an interview, County Councilmember Derrick Leon Davis (D) called the board’s recent meetings “embarrassing and unfortunate.”
“Political power struggles to essentially control staffing and give no-bid contracts as political favors have no place anywhere in any governing body, let alone our Board of Education,” he said.
Davis appeared to side with Alsobrooks on the need for state intervention.
“If these allegations are proven true, I’d pray the governing authority act swiftly to remedy this situation with definitive actions,” he said.
Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), the chairman of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, also called the board’s often-tumultuous meetings “embarrassing.”
“I’ve watched some of the board meetings and my biggest takeaway is a majority of their meetings have to do with power, not with improving student instruction,” he said.
“It’s arguing over agendas, order of business, motions — and I find it saddening that students and instruction is not the top of the conversation.”
In her statement, Alsobrooks called it “outrageous” that the board members under investigation “are now suggesting that the current series of events were fabricated in an effort to remove them from office in place of an all appointed board.”
She noted that the ethics committee “was selected and unanimously approved” by the board members.
In an interview, Alsobrooks stressed that the Prince George’s Board of Education has a long history of dysfunction.
“This conflict is not a new conflict,” she said. “This division, the incivility, the unprofessionalism, it predated me. It predated the current CEO. It predated the current chair. It’s been here now for probably a decade-plus, and nothing’s happened, so I am concerned about it. I am deeply concerned about it.”
Margie Hyslop contributed to this report.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated Wednesday morning to include a statement from Glenn Ivey.