The Prince George’s County school board will hold a special meeting Dec. 15 to possibly choose new leadership.
Embattled Board of Education Chair Juanita Miller read a statement during a board session Thursday saying she may not hold the title much longer. She summarized her remarks based on the popular R&B song “Joy and Pain” by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly.
In a more than three-minute speech, Miller summarized “the joy” of working with public schools CEO Monica Goldson, and boasted about the school system garnering national recognition for its language immersion program, and the Class of 2022 earning $200 million in scholarship awards and acceptances to colleges and universities and other programs.
“However…times of joy are interspersed with times of pain,” said Miller, who added how “misinformation and negative press often overshadow district success stories.”
“I look forward to hearing of the many future successes of this school district. I know it’s heading in the right direction and thank you for the opportunity to serve as the chair,” she said. “I’m not going anywhere, yet.”
State law approved this year notes the school board “shall elect” a new chair and vice chair, a vote the board was supposed to conduct Monday. For several years, the county executive appointed members to both positions. Miller was appointed in January 2021 by County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D).
But Miller has been a source of internal controversy on the board almost from the minute she took over.
Miller’s remarks Thursday also come as a legal battle continues before a Maryland administrative hearing judge because current and former school board colleagues have accused her of misconduct in office, willful neglect of duty and incompetence.
One of those alleged incidents was discussed Thursday about $32,000 in legal fees accrued by Miller, who’s represented by the firm of MarcusBonsib, LLC of Greenbelt.
The school board’s legal counsel, Bradley Farrar with Shipley & Horne of Largo, said the state education code allows a body to decide on whether “to pay all or part of legal fees for the defense of a county board member involved in litigation because of his or her official capacity” serving on a board.
Farrar said Miller’s being sued due to her work as board chair.
“My opinion is that, if these fees aren’t paid, then Dr. Miller will probably have grounds to sue this board for payment of those fees. I think the cost of that litigation will exceed what you would end up paying,” he said. “If you don’t do it, then you set a precedent that it makes you peril less to serve on this board.”
Shalya Adams-Stafford, one of the board members who filed a complaint against Miller, said Miller isn’t being sued and is mounting a defense based on a state Board of Education decision to move forward with the process to remove Miller from the board.
Miller requested a hearing before the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings. The virtual hearing took place the week of Nov. 28 and will resume Dec. 19.
Adams-Stafford said the legal fees payment “was made unbeknownst to us as a board and it really was fraudulent. We did not as a board agree to pay this and we’re talking about doing some retroactively. I’m worried that we will set a legal precedent within the board that essentially gives someone a blank check…and we have no idea what the fees will be in the future.”
As chair, Miller said Thursday she can sign some invoices that don’t always come before the full board for approval. As for the legal fees accumulated, she said former board vice chair Sonya Williams, who didn’t seek reelection this year, signed paperwork to authorize payment of her legal fees earlier this year.
Because the case involves Miller, she said Williams, as second-in-command, could sign and approve the payment. During that time, she said the board didn’t have legal counsel and a parliamentarian.
“There’s no fraud involved in this,” Miller said. “I could not sign [the invoice] because it was about me and that would have been unethical. The vice chair took it through the procurement process. That miscommunication really brings [a] question to this whole board and its integrity and how we operate. I can’t discuss and won’t discuss any more about the case.”
Last month’s election brought three new board members — Jonathan Briggs, Brandon D. Jackson and Lolita Walker — and they voted with four other colleagues to request more information on Miller’s legal fees. Adams-Stafford and Kenneth Harris II, also part of the legal case to remove Miller, abstained.
It wasn’t mentioned when the board would make a final decision on the legal fees matter.