Prince George's schools bill on its way to O'Malley

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Local,Maryland,Andy Brownfield

ANNAPOLIS -- Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker would have a lot more control over the county's school system under a bill awaiting Gov. Martin O'Malley's signature.

During a rare Saturday session the Maryland House of Delegates voted 79-47 to concur with the Senate, which had approved a watered down version of Baker's original proposal to take full control of the school system.

Under the bill, the system's $1.7 billion in funding would remain in the hands of the county school board. Four new voting members would be added, with the county executive appointing three and the county council appointing one. Baker's appointees must all have a high level of experience in specific areas: one in business, one in education and one in nonprofits. The board's appointee must be a parent whose child is enrolled in a county school.

The executive would also appoint the board's chair and vice chair, though the latter would have to be a board member already elected by the voters.

Baker would appoint a superintendent from a list prepared by a three-person board. While the superintendent would not be a member of Baker's cabinet, he or she would be required to attend all cabinet meetings.

Opponents of the bill worried that the type of unprecedented control Baker would be able to exercise might spread to their own counties with the measure's passage.

"I think there is a concern ...that this might set a precedent for other counties as far as their school boards being taken over by the county executive," said Del. Susan McComas, R-Harford County, who voted against the bill.

However, the bill's floor sponsor countered that with more control over the school system the county executive would also have to take more responsibility.

"I think the model that is being created ... the county executive in many ways has some of the responsibility and some of the accountability -- and in many ways all of the risk and all of the blame," said Del. Anne Kaiser, D-Montgomery County.

Baker originally wanted to have full rein over the system's budget and sole responsibility to select whomever he wanted to be superintendent. The superintendent would have been made a member of the cabinet. However, that version of the bill was watered down to assuage concerns that Prince George's would set a precedent for other counties.

abrownfield@washingtonexaminer.com

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