Procedural changes could be on the horizon for Prince George’s schools
Some procedural reforms could be coming soon for Prince George’s County Public Schools leadership.
As the county prepares to find a replacement for CEO Monica Goldson, who announced last month her plans to retire from the state’s second largest school system, a bill pending in Annapolis would allow the county executive to choose county residents to join a search committee to find a new schools leader.
Currently, committee membership consists of two county residents appointed by the governor and another a member of the state board of education appointed by the state superintendent.
And a second state bill would create an independent Office of Integrity and Compliance to examine, research and provide recommendations to the school system and to the County Council, which approves the school system’s budget.
All “functions, powers and duties” and employees would transfer to that compliance office from the county’s current Office of Internal Audit, which directly reports to the school board.
Both bills were vetted this week in hearings by the House Ways and Means Committee.
“We are in favor of both bills,” Donna Christy, president of the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association, said in a statement Wednesday. “We appreciate the effort…It is a great change that needs to happen.”
The changes come amidst public discourse and disagreements in the school system that led six current and former members to file a complaint against one of their own colleagues, Juanita Miller.
During virtual court proceedings that began in November, allegations surfaced that Miller mismanaged funds and made unilateral decisions on behalf of the board.
On Jan. 12, the board chose a new chair, Judy Mickens-Murray, under state legislation approved last year to allow the board to select a chair and vice chair. Miller was appointed as the chair in January 2021 by County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D).
On Jan. 18., a judge with the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings heard closing arguments to decide whether to remove Miller from her position on the school board.
The judge has up to 90 days to provide a written decision to the state Board of Education, which would decide whether to accept the judge’s ruling.
Meanwhile, Del. Karen Toles (D-Prince George’s) credited Sen. Alonzo Washington (D-Prince George’s) for his work on the search committee and integrity compliance bills, two of the last pieces of legislation he crafted before leaving the House of Delegates last month.
Toles, who spoke on behalf of the county’s House delegation chair Del. Nick Charles (D-Prince George’s), gave brief testimony in favor of the bills Wednesday.
The search committee legislation calls for appointing three county residents with a “high level” of knowledge and expertise on topics such as teaching in public schools; elementary, secondary and post-secondary education policy; and financial auditing and accounting.
To be eligible, appointees must reside in the county and have lived there for at least two years.
The bill also requires that the committee “must consist of individuals who collectively reflect, to the extent practicable, the geographic, racial, ethnic, cultural and gender diversity of the county.”
Instead of the state superintendent of schools choosing a person to serve as a search committee chair, the county executive would select that individual.
Current law that requires the county executive to pick a CEO from a list of three people recommended by the search committee remains unchanged. The county executive’s appointment would remain subject to approval by the state superintendent of schools.
Christy said the teacher’s union will request a few amendments to the bill at a virtual public hearing Sunday hosted by the county’s House delegation.
One amendment would place at least five individuals on the committee: a member of County Council, a school board member, teacher’s union representative, a state lawmaker with the county’s delegation and a community leader.
“That would make it a more inclusive search with diverse representation,” Christy said.
Last month, Christy signed a letter with county residents, education advocates and community leaders asking the county executive to consider recommendations from a “diverse range of perspectives and experiences” when choosing a new CEO.
“We strongly encourage the inclusion of all stakeholders in a highly inclusive process for selecting a new schools CEO,” their letter stated. “By doing so, we can ensure that the chosen candidate will have the support and diverse perspectives needed to lead our schools to success.”
Establishing an Office of Integrity
The county’s House delegation agrees with Christy and the teacher’s union that a new integrity and compliance office, independent of the school system, would improve local education oversight. Toles told the Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday that the county’s House delegation recommends approving the bill.
Some duties and responsibilities of the office, under the bill, include:
- Investigating and reporting instances of fraud, waste and abuse of property or funds.
- Examining adequacy and effectiveness of internal controls related to accounting, financial, technology and operational policies.
An integrity officer would coordinate with school officials to create a work plan with periodic goals and priorities for the compliance office. The plan would include suggestions and ideas from school employees, elected officials and residents.
A written plan would be made available to the public.
The county’s Office of Internal Audit has some similar responsibilities including conducting audits and evaluating school procedures. However, that office reports directly to the school board.
A fiscal note shows that hiring people for three new positions — an integrity and compliance officer, a financial administrator and a financial analyst — would cost about $545,240, and that estimate doesn’t include fringe benefits.
The county’s audit office has a proposed fiscal 2024 budget of $2.4 million with 15 employees.
“All employees who are transferred to [the new compliance office] must be transferred without any diminution of their rights, including collective bargaining rights, benefits, or employment or retirement status,” according to fiscal note.
An August report from the Maryland Office of the Inspector General for Education concluded that the Prince George’s school board ethics advisory panel “did not provide a complete and fact-based report” about the six board members who filed complaints against Miller.
The proposed legislation would allow the inspector general to retain authority to investigate similar complaints in the future.
“The Prince George’s County [school] board has been hampered by years of controversy, including false ethics reports, illegal grade changes, misuse of public funds and much more,” Toles said. “This bill will stop these disturbing instances of waste, fraud and abuse that have persisted over the past 25 years.”