Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) has asked the head of the county school board, Dr. Juanita D. Miller, to step down, “effective immediately,” Maryland Matters has learned.
Miller, a former state delegate and water utility commission board member, has been at the center of multiple controversies since her appointment 16 months ago. Ethics complaints have been filed against her and she supported a separate set of disputed complaints that was filed against a faction of the board with whom she has clashed.
Earlier this week, the Maryland State Board of Education made public two charges against Miller — charges that could lead to her removal. The charges were approved at a closed-door meeting on May 24.
In a May 31 letter to Miller, the board said it had materials that were “legally and factually sufficient” to support two allegations against her.
The board charged Miller with refusing to sign a legal services contract with the law firm that a majority of the board had voted to hire. Instead, she engaged a different law firm “without local board approval.” Miller also invited unauthorized guests — two attorneys who provided legal advice — “to attend confidential executive sessions” of the school board last year, according to the notice of charges.
The state board also found that Miller withheld from her colleagues seven ethics complaints and then failed to present “findings and recommendations” from the local board’s ethics panel in a timely manner. That failure, the state board found, prevented the Prince George’s school board from fulfilling its responsibility to make a final decision on the allegations.
In a letter to Miller this week, Alsobrooks made no mention of the state school board’s charges or her potential removal.
Instead, the executive suggested, Miller’s resignation would help the board comply with recently enacted changes in state law. Under legislation put forward by Alsobrooks and approved by the General Assembly earlier this year, the Prince George’s board will choose its own leadership beginning in December. In recent years, the county executive has chosen the chair.
“As we begin moving forward on a new path with our Board and its leadership, I believe that now is the time to start fresh with a clean slate and in order to help that process, and in light of what we discussed in recent days, I believe it is best for you to resign from the Board at this time,” Alsobrooks wrote.
Alsobrooks credited Miller with bringing “a passion for educational excellence and equity” along with “a wealth of knowledge and experience that served our schools and County well.”
The county board is currently made up of both elected and appointed members. In 2024 it will revert to an all-elected board.
Last summer, Maryland Matters was the first to report on a confidential set of ethics allegations against a several members of the school board, a group perceived as more progressive than Miller and her allies. On the surface, the charges appeared damning, but they quickly came under scrutiny. Targeted members pushed back publicly and the ethics findings grew to be perceived as a political hit job.
In April, the ethics panel abruptly resigned en masse, citing the stress of the unpaid work, the perceived “dysfunctional” nature of the board, and the difficulty they had getting information from board members, who they charged with wanting to “litigate Ethics Panel Findings in the press.”
If Miller resigns or is removed, it will bring to a close a tense chapter in recent Prince George’s history. Many political observers were surprised that Alsobrooks chose Miller following the abrupt resignation of former chair Alvin Thornton in late 2020.
A highly regarded former Howard University dean, Thornton was thought to be a stabilizing force on a board that had both moderate and progressive members. Miller, who is thought to have more of a bulldozer personality, engaged in frequent public shouting matches with board members with whom she disagreed. Meetings she led were often chaotic, causing negative headlines for a school system that has struggled academically.
Miller supporters argue that the board has functioned more smoothly as various members of the panel moved to other jobs or resigned to run for other posts.
Prince George’s County Councilmember Edward Burroughs III (D), who clashed regularly with Miller when he served on the board of education, said in an interview he was “not surprised” by the state board’s efforts to remove her.
“The state board of education did the right thing,” he said. “We have tried to inform people for a very long time about her gravely inappropriate behavior, which served as an impediment to the board’s ability to function.”
He called on Miller to step down. “Dr. Miller’s presence on the board has been extremely detrimental to our students and has certainly caused irreparable harm to them and to our system,” he said.
Under state law, Miller has ten days to request a hearing on the state board’s charges “[T]he State Board may remove a member of the local board on the grounds of misconduct in office, willful neglect of duty, and incompetency,” the panel’s letter stated.
Miller did not respond to a request for comment, nor did her attorneys, Sydney M. Patterson and Bruce Marcus.
If the board seeks to oust Miller, the matter would be referred to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) for final action.