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Prince George's County, Md., Executive Wants Control of School System

From guest blogger Alyssa Morones

County Executive Rushern L. Baker III of Prince Geroge's County, Md., is seeking state legislation that would put him in charge of the 124,000-student school system and its $1.7 billion budget. The legislation would empower the executive to hire and fire the superintendent, while stripping the elected school board of many of its powers, reports The Washington Post.

While Prince George's County, home to Maryland's second largest school system, is one of the most affluent, predominantly African-American counties in the United States, it remains near the bottom in statewide performance rankings. The school system has undergone rapid superintendent turnover in recent years and has made only modest improvements to student performance.

According to The Post, Baker says drastic governance change is required to improve the school system.

This is not the first time Baker has worked to dilute the authority of the county's elected board. As a state delegate in 2002, he worked to dissolve and replace the elected board with one appointed by the governor and county executive. Because of public outcry, the county reverted back to the elected board system in 2006.

Should the new structure be approved, the next superintendent's powers would increase significantly because he or she would answer directly to the county executive, which Baker says would give residents one person to hold accountable for school system performance. The county executive and council would also take hold of the school system's budget and capital programs, shifting the primary focus of the board to academic policy and parental engagement.

Responses to Baker's proposal have been mixed. So far, one board member has praised the plan and some state delegates have expressed support. The head of the local NAACP, however, has promised to fight the legislation.

Increased executive control over school systems is a more than decade-old trend for big cities across the country, including the District of Columbia and New York City, and smaller cities and counties are beginning to follow suit.

Legislators in North Carolina recently introduced a bill that would shift the control of school properties from school boards to their respective 100 county governments. The responsibility of owning, acquiring, constructing, maintaining, and renovating schools would then fall to the county boards of commissioners.

The hope is that this transition of power would allow school boards to focus on education over real estate.

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