The Maryland State Board of Education voted Tuesday evening to allow Juanita Miller to remain on the Prince George’s County school board.
The board’s decision, which was reached during a closed session, concurred with a state administrative law judge’s recommendation in March that Miller should remain on the 14-member county board.
The all-day meeting in Baltimore also represented the first for five new state board members, including Monica Goldson, former superintendent of Prince George’s County Public Schools. Goldson was one of several witnesses called to testify during a December hearing before Administrative Law Judge Richard O’ Connor.
Goldson recused herself from the nearly 30-minute oral argument discussion between attorneys Tuesday morning.
Miller, who wasn’t present with her attorney Bruce Marcus, faced criticism in her leadership of the county board, and disagreements between elected and appointed members of the board were aired publicly at board meetings. Miller was appointed as chair to the board in January 2021 by County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D).
Six current and former board members – Raaheela Ahmed, Edward Burroughs III, Kenneth Harris, David Murray, Shayla Adams-Stafford and Joshua Thomas – appealed to the state board last year, arguing that Miller should be removed due to allegations of misconduct in office, willful neglect of duty and incompetence. Ahmed, Burroughs and Thomas are no longer on the school board.
The board members involved in the complaint are represented by Brandon Cooper.
On Tuesday, Cooper called the judge’s recommendation “tainted” for several reasons, including because he did not allow some documents into evidence during the case.
The first is a June 2022 performance audit from the state Department of Education that documented multiple failures within the board, including violations of the Open Meetings Act, noncompliance with board procedures, and other concerns.
The second was an August 2022 report from the state Office of the Inspector General for Education that concluded an ethics investigation into the six board members in the complaint was deeply factually flawed.
About a week prior to the judge’s recommendation that Miller should remain on the county board, the state Board of Education dismissed charges that Miller had made against Adams-Stafford, Harris and Murray, seeking to remove them from the county board.
“If the recommendation from the [state] Office of Administrative Hearings is not based on the law and facts, you have the statutory right, and I would say duty, to exercise independent judgment in this case,” Cooper told the state board members on Tuesday, continuing to urge for Miller’s removal.
But Marcus said the audit, report and other factors had no bearing on the case.
“It was based on certain, specific factual allegations,” he said. “So what we have effectively done here is we have taken evidence…which was not part of the charges be brought back in in an effort to upset a decision of an administrative law judge, who clearly went through all of the evidence [and] came to a reasoned decision.”
Six months into Miller’s term on the board, in July 2021, the six current and former county board members and a few residents filed a petition to request Miller’s removal from the board. The state board denied the petition based on a technicality.
A new petition was filed in January 2022 and in May of that year, the state board voted to issue a notice of charges to Miller.
Several days later, in June 2022, Alsobrooks requested that Miller resign, but she refused. Although the county executive has authority to appoint the board’s chair, the executive doesn’t have the power to remove a person.
After the state board’s decision, Miller requested a hearing before an administrative law judge.
During an eight-day hearing in November and December, Miller was accused of making unilateral decisions, such as inviting an attorney to a closed-door session not approved by the board.
Miller was also criticized for her refusal to share a report from the school board’s ethics advisory panel, which accused those six members in this case of wrongdoing. Those members have vehemently denied the allegations int he report, which includes a number of factual errors.
In January of this year, the county school board voted 8-5 to name Judy Mickens-Murray as the new chair. That came after Miller said she wanted to relinquish the gavel as board chair.
Possible next steps
Cooper declined to comment Tuesday evening on the state board’s decision.
However, his clients could ask him to appeal the state board’s decision to the local circuit court, according to state law.
However, that’s rarely done; the last time the state board voted to remove a school board member happened in 2019 in Allegany County. The board upheld a decision made by an administrative law judge against former member Wayne Foote on charges of misconduct in office and willful neglect of duty.
The state board issued several decisions last year declining to issue charges to remove local school board members. In December, the state board declined to remove two Carroll County board members due to allegations of “misconduct, willful neglect of duty, and incompetence.”
Back in Prince George’s, Miller and three other appointed members will ultimately be automatically removed from the board.
That’s because the General Assembly approved House Bill 355 last year to shift the county school board to a fully elected body with nine people representing districts in 2024. A high school student would serve as the 10th member.
House Bill 1079, approved this year, focused on changes to duties of the Prince George’s school board with the new 10-member body starting July 1, 2024.