Prince George's County D9 Politico Blog

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Archive for June 2012

Leave Our Student Board Member Alone

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In a blog post yesterday, I urged voters to ask our School Board candidates to “leave our student board member alone.” Because this is a critical election cycle in which we will elect five of the nine School Board members in November, I wanted to revisit the School Board’s discussion about barring the student board member from executive sessions. I think it proves my point that the School Board is very afraid of being held accountable, and they view the incoming student as a threat to their hidden agendas that are kept behind closed doors. I gave my brief opinion on the matter, restated below, and got some feedback for you to consider with others who are very familiar with this issue.

From PGD9Politico:

“As the Washington Post reported and editorialized earlier in June, the School Board spent a lot of wasted time debating whether the student board member should be allowed to attend executive sessions. To be quite blunt, it does nothing to help improve BOE Chair Jeana Jacobs’ image in the county, since the student board member is also the sister of her opponent in the November election. It provides additional proof of the petty politics that Jacobs will engage in, following her crushing loss to Raheela Ahmed in the primary election. If Jacobs wishes to refute these allegations, and tell us what platform she is running on to be re-elected, at the very least I would welcome a website where we can learn more information about what she has accomplished in her previous terms. So far, none exists.”

Another source who is very familiar with the work of the elected School Board states the following opinion about the matter: ” I think that a decision to remove the Student Member is not only completely unnecessary, but it is a calculated move done for political reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the Prince George’s County Board of Education, the mission we perpetuate, or the people we serve. This is a sad attempt to preamptively strike a dedicated, hardworking, and focused young lady who will be taking office in a few weeks, and happens to be related to someone challenging a seat of our complacent leadership. What is happening now is indicative of why we must change our motto from “children come first,” because that is certainly not the case. We have some amazing people throuhgout our school system and schools, but in order to overcome the politics and bureaucracy we need a Board that comes with the correct mindset, goals, and focus. ”

I also wanted to share with you some poignant comments made by Dave Cahn, Co-Chair of Citizens for an Elected Board, which I urge you to think about as you make up your own mind on the issue.

“The proposed school board action is illegal and immoral.  Under the law, the student member is a full member of the board with the same rights and privileges at other board members, but with two exceptions:

1.  There are six matters on which the student member is not allowed to vote.

2.  The student member may not attend an executive session related to any of three stated matters, unless invited by a vote of the other board members.

On the first issue, the board wants to prevent the student member from discussing or making motions regarding any of the matters on which voting is not permitted.  The law does not permit the board to impose such restrictions.

On the second issue, the board counsel wants the board to exclude the student member from ALL executive sessions absent an invitation approved by the other members. Counsel wants a vote before each executive session on whether to invite the student member to attend, and the provision probably will make it into the draft policy change.

It clearly is beyond the power of the board to do this.  The student member, as a member of the board, does not need an invitation to attend any session of the board, executive or otherwise.  The student member’s participation is automatic.  On the other hand, the exclusion of the student member from an executive session that relates to any of the three issues in the law is equally automatic.  If the other members wish to invite the student member to attend, they may do so. If not, no vote is needed.

I attended the June 4 policy committee meeting.  Like all this board’s committees, all board members are committee members, and all were present.  I was astounded at a comment from one member to the effect that “we discuss those matters as part of every executive session, so the student member should not be allowed to attend any of them unless invited.”

A reasonable reading of the law would permit the student member to attend all executive sessions as a matter of right, leave the session during discussion of or action on one of the excluded matters, and return after those matters are discussed.  A reasonable board would group the excluded matters at the beginning or end of the meeting.  Any motion to invite the student member to attend discussion of an excluded matter should, if possible, be taken in open session.  If taken during an executive session, the vote (including the individual vote of each member) should be reported in open session.

I should note that Board Counsel Abbey Hairston is supplied by Thatcher Law firm, which has a lucrative sole-source contract with the board and is a large contributor to Board Chair Verjeana Jacobs’ reelection campaign.  That the incoming student board member is sister to Jacobs’ general election opponent should not be lost on anyone.  It is a nice way to punish the entire family.  However, the anti-student board member sentiment among the adult members has been around for years.”

The School Board has the most direct effect on the top issue facing our county: poorly-performing public schools. Take your vote seriously as you approach the ballot box this November, because the future of our County (and our students) depends on it. In my opinion, Jeana Jacobs should not be re-elected.

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Written by pgd9politico

June 22, 2012 at 3:52 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Politics of Education Matters

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Now that the gambling issue seems to be put to rest (at least until 2014), I can get back to blogging about issues that I believe really matter, like education. This is the single issue that I believe will directly influence and shape the future of our county, whether it’s in a positive or negative direction. Our county’s success is intertwined with our ability to effectively educate our students for the 21st century.

Our students’ success hangs in the balance, and the puppeteers holding the strings are the nine individuals elected to serve on our School Board. While many other contributors play key roles to support students in our public schools and we couldn’t do anything without our teachers, ultimately the Superintendent and School Board make the decisions that affect our outcomes.

I was hesitant to comment after the astounding victories of three youth in our School Board primaries on April 3. I was pleased to let the voters’ voices speak instead. Just as I thought they would, voters told us what what qualifications really matter in being a member of the School Board. Age mattered less than platforms, policies, and communication with the community stakeholders where they live. The victors proved they have done that, those who lost did not.

That’s a tough pill to swallow for incumbents who finished second. It’s proof that you can’t run on name recognition alone to hold onto your seat. The people are watching, and they are making their voices heard.

That being said, it’s still an uphill climb for at least two of the three young candidates. While they were lauded on major media outlets such as CNN, they still face a difficult path to victory in November, where the voter turnout in a presidential election is expected to be high, and many of the voters who show up will be less educated about their choices down the ballot (where the School Board candidates reside) than at the top. Name recognition will carry the day, unless we get out there door-to-door and educate our neighbors about our choices for the School Board.

When I say “educate,” I’m hopeful that part of this outreach focuses directly on making our current elected School Board accountable for their actions. Here are some issues I am concerned about, and I hope you will add your own in the comments section of this blog post.

(1) Make Parental and Community Engagement a Priority. I have yet to hear of any parental or community engagement initiatives led by members of the School Board. I’ve never received any invitations from my elected School Board member, Donna Hathaway-Beck, to attend forums or meetings or email her with my concerns as a parent in her district. Councilman Mel Franklin has invited her to participate in his community forums, but she hasn’t taken that initiative on her own. How can she represent my interests as a parent and community stakeholder if she doesn’t even know what my priorities are? Instead, I am required to go to her and the School Board to voice my concerns, at their convenience (usually during weekday or evening meetings that are difficult to attend as a working mother of young children). School Board members need to take leadership in engaging both with parents as key partners and with businesses and community members as future employers and key stakeholders with public schools in our neighborhoods. Ask your school board candidates to commit to that goal if they are asking for your vote.

(2) Ask why the County Executive Needs an Education Commission if the School Board is Effective. County Executive Baker made a Pledge to the People of Prince George’s County in his 2010 campaign. The first two pledges were targeted at improving education, by “supporting demonstration projects for early education, year-round schooling, early college; teacher recruitment, and other innovative programs.” He also promised “greater coordination of the entire Prince George’s County government with the school system for accelerating improvements.”

Very little of this has been accomplished; but with the introduction of an education liaison in his office and a newly-appointed education commission to provide guidance to Dr. Hite, it seems that Mr. Baker is implying that the School Board is incapable of doing the job it was elected to do. I have yet to find other citizen commissions that are appointed by local elected officials, to do the work that an elected School Board is already tasked to do. We already know that as a former state delegate, Baker helped to abolish the elected school board, so I’m assuming that he believes voters are incapable of electing competent individuals and thereform he must take action to help steer the ship in the right direction. Hopefully, voters will speak for the need to move in a different direction for the School Board at the ballot box in November instead.

(3) Leave the student board member alone. As the Washington Post reported and editorialized earlier in June, the School Board spent a lot of wasted time debating whether the student board member should be allowed to attend executive sessions. To be quite blunt, it does nothing to help improve BOE Chair Jeana Jacobs’ image in the county, since the student board member is also the sister of her opponent in the November election. It provides additional proof of the petty politics that Jacobs will engage in, following her crushing loss to Raheela Ahmed in the primary election. If Jacobs wishes to refute these allegations, and tell us what platform she is running on to be re-elected, at the very least I would welcome a website where we can learn more information about what she has accomplished in her previous terms. So far, none exists.

(4) Get rid of the negative press. When  the school system is defending itself against discrimination lawsuits or questionable suspensions, we can’t focus our energy on improving student achievement. Let’s develop an organizational culture that doesn’t tolerate unethical behavior, so we can be role models for our students. It’s time for all of us to step up to the plate to accomplish that goal, but it starts with elected leaders and public school officials should be held to the highest ethical standards, first and foremost.

What do you think the School Board needs to prioritize? How will School Board candidates earn your vote in November? I’d like to know, post it here and I’ll be sure to share it!

Written by pgd9politico

June 21, 2012 at 5:09 pm