Baker’s Foes Turn Up the Heat on Prince George’s Schools
By Bruce DePuyt
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) found himself under increasing attack on Thursday, as a gubernatorial rival, a candidate for his current post and an influential union leader lobbed sharp criticism his way.
At issue: pay raises for top school system personnel that some members of the Prince George’s County Board of Education say were not authorized. A minority bloc of the panel charged in a letter on Wednesday that a small group of central office personnel received raises of 10-12 percent last month, at the same time a proposal to increase teacher pay by 4 percent was being rejected.
Former NAACP president and gubernatorial candidate Benjamin T. Jealous (D) called on Baker to respond to “this crisis” by firing his hand-picked schools CEO, Dr. Kevin M. Maxwell.
“As a parent with children who attend public school,” Jealous said, “I sympathize with every parent who is frustrated by the continued incompetence and failure of leadership” in the county.
“Throughout my travels (to Prince George’s), many parents have brought their concerns to my attention,” he said. “As a civil rights leader and community organizer, I’m adding my voice to those who have called on County Executive Baker to show real leadership and fire Kevin Maxwell.”
County Executive candidate Donna F. Edwards (D) on Thursday renewed her call for Maxwell to go. “Once again, we’re seeing our school leadership more focused on their pay than the quality of education they are delivering for our children,” the former congresswoman said in a statement.
Edwards called it “shameful” that “senior leadership padded their pockets with double digit raises, while approving a miserly 1 percent bump in pay and denying a 4 percent increase to teachers.”
“It’s no wonder we’re losing talent to other jurisdictions,” she said, adding that “these folks need to be relieved of their positions.”
An audit is underway to determine which central office staff received raises and how large those raises were.
Baker’s camp dismissed the criticism.
“Three things you can count on in life: death; taxes; and politicians calling for the resignation of the Prince George’s County Schools’ CEO during an election year,” Madeleine Russak, a Baker campaign spokeswoman, said in an email to Maryland Matters.
Jealous’ slap at Baker represents one of the first real attacks by one candidate on another in the nine-candidate Democratic gubernatorial primary. Recent polling puts Baker in front, with Jealous and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz forming a top tier of candidates in double digits, with roughly a third of the Democratic electorate still undecided.
On Thursday, former Baltimore County school superintendent S. Dallas Dance pleaded guilty to four counts of perjury after failing to disclose $147,000 in income from consulting jobs — including payments from a company that won a no-bid contract with the school system.
Last week, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) called on Baker to fire Maxwell because of allegations of grade inflation and other problems in the county’s sprawling school system.
Baker defended his schools chief, and in an interview with The Washington Post, Maxwell called Hogan’s comments “absolutely” political.
Russak laid out improvements that the school system has made since Baker — and Maxwell — took over.
“While we welcome Mr. Jealous to the conversation on how to better serve our students, his attempt to interject campaign politics with a Larry Hogan-style political attack is not only unproductive, but risks creating instability for our kids,” she said.
In a commentary submitted to Maryland Matters, Theresa Mitchell Dudley, president of the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association, rapped Baker’s and Maxwell’s management of the school system. She called for overturning the current management structure and reinstating an all-elected school board.
“This setup has nullified any checks and balances, leading to harmful consequences,” Dudley said. “Stakeholders have no ability to influence the operation of our schools or to hold system leaders accountable.”