Six weeks before the end of the school year, controversy continues to roil in the Prince George’s County school system’s leadership.
In recent weeks, the interim schools superintendent announced his resignation, a Board of Education member was penalized for making unauthorized charges with her county-issued credit card, the selection process for school board appointees began and a group of county residents are organizing against the law which granted power to Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III to make sweeping changes to school management.
Interim Superintendent Alvin Crawley announced on April 25 that he would leave the school system effective June 3, almost a month before his contract’s June 30 expiration date. Crawley is throwing in the towel as Baker searches for a new schools chief. Baker said publicly that he had hoped that Crowley would continue until the end of his contract to allow for a smoother transition once the new superintendent is found.
But in a statement, Crawley, whom sources said was disappointed that he was not a contender for the permanent job, said he is resigning early with “mixed emotions.” He added that he is “very proud of the accomplishments” he made during his tenure.
The school board responded to Crawley’s resignation with a statement that took a jab at Baker.
“We are saddened by Dr. Crawley’s decision to leave early,” the statement said. “However, due to the passage of the recent legislation changing the governance structure of our school system, we fully understand.”
Crawley was one of three candidates vying for the position of superintendent before Baker announced plans to overhaul the system. Among Baker’s priorities was to make drastic changes in the superintendent selection process. All candidates withdrew from the superintendent search by April 5.
Meanwhile, the board of education suspended the county-issued credit card of board member Carletta Fellows (District 7) after charges she made to Verizon, Washington Gas, Comcast and Pepco were questioned as improper.
On April 25, board chair Verjeana Jacobs (District 5) raised the issue, touching off an hour-long debate during a meeting. Fellows claimed that the charges were justified because board members are allowed to utilize a home office for board purposes.
An internal audit found that Fellows’ use of the card also included purchases at Staples and an alcohol purchase. Auditor Michelle Winston said utilities and alcohol are not permitted board expenses.
The meeting became tense when Jacobs asked Fellows to reimburse the board $529.85 for the questionable purchases. Fellows swiftly interrupted the request to question why the board chose to address the issue publicly instead of in closed session.
“You are out of order. Ms. Fellows you are out of order,” Jacobs said, banging the gavel in response.
Fellows continued to talk, at one point saying, “I think this is out of order, and to me this is almost like a retaliation.”
Supporters of Fellows believe she was singled out because she had supported Baker’s plan, the sole board member to do so. The credit card suspension also comes after Fellows was privately censured by the board in January.
Meanwhile, the application process has started for four new BOE appointees. Interested persons must submit completed applications by May 10.
Baker will appoint three members who must have a background in one either business/finance, education or higher education management. The Prince George’s County Council will make one appointment; candidates must live in the county and have a child in the public school system.
“We’re going to discuss that in executive session because that’s considered a personnel matter,” said council Chair Andrea Harrison (District 5). “We plan to make a decision about how we’re going to go about that. The applications are due May 10 and we plan to have our selections ready to go by June 1.”
Meanwhile, some county residents continue to fight the law. Citizens for an Elected Board, in conjunction with the NAACP of Prince George’s County and Prince Georgians for an Informed Citizenry, were scheduled to meet on May 1 to discuss strategies to reverse the measure. The coalition hopes to collect enough signatures to force a referendum.
“It’s going to be hard to get the signatures, but we want to make a statement that parents need to be included,” said Debbie Sell, president of Prince Georgians for an Informed Citizenry. “Citizens need to realize that we have power and this will show the delegates that they can’t take us for granted.”