Tonya Sweat of Accokeek plans to lead an effort to push for an all-elected Prince George's County school board. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)
Tonya Sweat of Accokeek plans to lead an effort to push for an all-elected Prince George's County school board. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

Tonya Sweat of Accokeek demands more accountability and transparency in the Prince George’s County public school system.

Sweat, chosen last month as vice president of advocacy for the Maryland Parent Teacher Association, plans to reinvigorate a debate on whether state lawmakers should pass legislation to transform the Prince George’s school board into an all-elected body.

Nine members are elected and represents districts. The board chairman and two other members are appointed by the county executive and another by County Council. The 14th member, a high school student, is chosen for a one-year term by a county student government association.

“If you turn the school board over back to the voters, that means those board members will be held accountable,” said Sweat, who has two children in the public schools. “We have to make our constituents feel like they’re being involved.”

State Sen. Obie Patterson (D-District 26) of Fort Washington, who was elected in November and serves on the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, said a governing body should be allowed to choose its own leadership.

“If County Council and the state legislature are elected members and can choose their chair, why not the school board?” he said. “Let’s be open and talk about it.”

During last year’s General Assembly session between January and April, legislation to restructure the current hybrid format died in a committee.

According to a state statute, the state’s second-largest school system represents the only jurisdiction in Maryland where the county executive can appoint a school board chair and a superintendent. The school system leader title, called a CEO in Prince George’s, was bestowed to county native Monica Goldson, who was appointed in June and formerly approved by state Superintendent Karen Salmon on July 1.

Sweat and other parents stem part of their frustration from a community meeting in May convened by County Executive Angela Alsobrooks where the majority of attendees spoke to support and praise Goldson’s character.

County executive spokesman John Erzen said in an email last month the county followed all the legal steps in the CEO search.

The firm of Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates headquartered in Schaumburg, Illinois, chose six candidates among 20 from a national search which cost the county nearly $42,000. Then, a three-member committee appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan narrowed the list to three for the county executive to choose.

It took about three months to remove the interim title off Goldson, who Alsobrooks recognized as an “easy choice” with 28 years of experience in the schools as a teacher, math instructional specialist, assistant principal and the founding principal at Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School in Upper Marlboro.

“The search was done in complete accordance with the law,” Erzen said.

Hybrid, Appointed and Elected

Former County Executive Rushern L. Baker III led the push for county government to become more involved with the public schools to institute a hybrid school board and executive to appoint the CEO. State lawmakers approved the move in 2013 with the legislation eventually signed by former Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Prince George’s isn’t the only jurisdiction with a hybrid school board structure. Baltimore County has 12 members that include seven elected by districts, four at-large appointed by the governor in consultation with the county executive and a high school student.

The other two hybrid boards are in Caroline and Harford counties. The Baltimore City mayor appoints all members to the city’s school board.

Anne Arundel County began in December to convert into a fully-elected body with staggered terms running through 2024 when all members stand for election. The remaining 18 school systems in Maryland are all elected boards.

According to a one-page list of this year’s Maryland Association of Boards of Education legislative priorities, the organization highlights there’s no “research-based evidence” elected or appointed boards are more effective or accountable.

However, it “opposes bills granting initial board appointment authority to local county government officials. Local boards of education are entities of the state … [and] remain an independent voice for children and their public education needs.”

Del. Jazz Lewis (D-District 24) of Landover will abide by what voters prefer, but emphasized the focus should be providing resources for teachers to enhance student achievement.

“I think we need to focus on outcomes for our students in the classroom, instead of obsessing over who is the CEO and the makeup of the school board because we’ve been in that cycle for 20 years,” he said.

Del. Wanika Fisher (D-District 47B) of Hyattsville, who was elected in November, supports an all-elected school board.

“Unless someone tells me something I don’t already know, that’s pretty much my opinion,” she said.

Crystal Carpenter, vice president of the PTA at Charles Flowers High School in Springdale, said the school board would be stronger with accountability measures. Recommendations included having board members attend a certain number of community meetings; providing a monthly report on issues discussed to improve a particular district; and requiring each member to explain a vote.

“A lot of these officials have a part-time mentality,” she said. “It’s a part-time position in nature, but it requires full-time attention that affect thousands upon thousands upon thousands of children. I expect the school board members to give 150 percent.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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