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Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker's school reform bill moves from Maryland House to Senate

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Local,Maryland,Education,Matt Connolly

A bill allowing Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker to take over the county school system moved from the Maryland House to the Senate on Thursday, bringing the controversial proposal one step closer to a final decision as the legislative session winds down.

Under the proposal, the superintendent would be made a member of Baker's Cabinet, putting the county executive in charge of the system's $1.7 billion budget. Two full voting members would be added to the Board of Education - one appointed by the executive and one appointed by the County Council SEmD while the Parent Teacher Association president would serve with limited voting rights.

First, though, the bill has to get through the state legislature. County House Delegation Chairwoman Jolene Ivey, D-Prince George's, said the Senate might complicate things by introducing its own bill.

"The basic outline remains the same, but all the little details are still being worked on," she said. "Personally, I say just amend the bill that's on its way."

She added that even though legislators pack up and head home April 8, there's still plenty of time to amend and vote on the proposal.

The most likely spot for compromise is the budgeting provision, according to Christian Rhodes, Baker's education policy adviser.

"Where we probably will end up is the county executive with the board will work together on the budget, and the superintendent would have full authority over day-to-day operations," Rhodes said. "We're trying to still push change, but make sure we're respecting everyone's opinion. We're kind of in that legislative sausage-making stage."

Many Board of Education members have not taken kindly to Baker's plan to limit their power. The board put out a statement in June accusing him of playing politics with county students.

"Mr. Baker's proposal reduces public oversight of schools and voids the rights of our parents, students and labor unions," the statement says. "The bill resembles that of the D.C. school takeover by former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty. However, similar to the District, the bill falls short and fails to address the core issues facing our community."

Fenty undertook a massive restructuring of the school system in 2007, appointing Michelle Rhee as chancellor and wresting control from the State Board of Education. New York City went through a similar reform process five years earlier.

"The goal of all this isn't about power, it's about improving our schools and the education that our children receive," Ivey said. "It's not about Rushern Baker -- the structure will outlast him."

mconnolly@washingtonexaminer.com

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Matt Connolly

Examiner Staff Writer
The Washington Examiner