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Education

Alsobrooks to Ask General Assembly for All-Elected Prince George’s School Board

Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) at a legislative hearing in Annapolis. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines

Hoping to end an era of acrimony on the Prince George’s Board of Education, County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks said on Friday she will forward the recommendations of a special task force to the General Assembly.

The panel, which concluded a months-long review this week, adopted 11 recommendations in total. Chief among them: a return to an all-elected school board, with nine members elected by district and one student.

The current board is comprised of nine elected and four appointed members who serve alongside a student member who can vote on certain issues. Alsobrooks (D) created the task force last year following months of infighting and negative headlines on the board, asking the panel to come up with a set of “best practices.”

“They have sent to me a number of recommendations to help us repair the dysfunction that has occurred on that board, and we’re going to forward those recommendations [to the legislature] and work to implement them,” Alsobrooks told WAMU host Kojo Nnamdi. “I agree with an all-elected school board. I always have.”

The current hybrid board was created by the legislature a decade ago at the request of then-County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), who hoped the refashioned panel would help boost classroom achievement.

After board Chair Alvin Thornton resigned abruptly in late 2020, Alsobrooks tapped former state delegate and WSSC commissioner Juanita D. Miller to take his place. She and a bloc of younger, self-described progressive members of the board have clashed repeatedly, raising fears that CEO Monica Goldson might depart.

The board has churned through multiple attorneys due to the chaos and briefly stopped meeting last winter. At one point, several members asked the state school board to remove Miller; she later filed a petition seeking to remove two of her colleagues. A controversial set of ethics charges created still more bad blood.

Seeking desperately to turn the page, Alsobrooks created the task force made up of community leaders to recommend potential changes. Changes in board structure must be approved by the state legislature, and the executive is hopeful the General Assembly will approve legislation this session, as 2022 is an election year.

Alsobrooks aides cautioned that she has not been fully briefed on all of the task force’s recommendations, which reached her office on Thursday after being adopted the day before.

Among the other recommendations offered by the task force:

  • School board members would be limited to two terms.
  • Salaries would increase from $19,000 per year to $27,000 per year for members, and from $25,000 to $32,000 for the chair.
  • School board candidates would be eligible to make use of the county’s public financing system.
  • Candidates would not be allowed to appear on slates or sample ballots.
  • The school system’s top official would carry the title superintendent, not CEO.

In an effort to clarify lines of authority, the task force is suggesting that the school board not be allowed “to implement a policy or take any action that contradicts the actions or interfere with the Chief Executive Officer’s ability to perform their power.”

Board Member Shayla Adams Stafford, part of the group that has clashed with Miller, supports that proposal. She views it to be a “restatement of what already exists.”

“The CEO manages the day-to-day operations of the school system and the school board provides systemic oversight,” she said. “That’s a key component of our work and that’s what our communities are looking for us to do.”

Harsh words from the state school board

Last year, Miller sought the removal of board member David Murray, due to a social media post of his. The photo featured a photoshopped picture of Miller and another board member with images of basketball legend Michael Jordan shedding tears, known colloquially as the “Crying Jordan Meme.”

Murray moved the post quickly and apologized for his actions, but Miller filed papers to have him removed from the board, calling the image “demeaning, misogynistic, unprofessional, cyberbullying, harassing, and arguably racist.” She and Jordan are Black. The other member in the photo and Murray are white.

In late January, the state board rejected her request, saying Murray’s actions, while inappropriate, did not meet the standard needed for removal. State board members used the occasion to express its “dismay” with the Prince George’s board’s “lack of professionalism.”

“We urge local board members to focus on their board responsibilities and the education of students,” the state panel wrote. “We also take this opportunity to express our dismay that a local board member invoked the removal process over matters that seem driven by the ongoing political disputes among various members of the local board.”

The state board described the removal process as a “serious procedure” that is to be used sparingly. “It is not a process to be used as a political tool or tactic when board members disagree over position or philosophy.”

The state board had also considered a motion filed by several Prince George’s board members to remove Miller from her post, arguing that she is unfit to serve. That motion was also rejected by the state board due to a procedural error.

Adams Stafford said they corrected the defect and immediately re-filed the motion to have Miller removed from her post.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to correct the order in which petitions for removal of school board members were filed to the State Board of Education, and the description of a photo that was the basis of one of the complaints.