ANNAPOLIS Plagued by allegations of mismanaged funds and poor performance, the Prince George’s County delegation and county executive fear losing control of the county’s schools to the state.
“(The District of Columbia) lost its ability to control its future and Baltimore city lost its ability to control its future. Don’t let things go backwards for Prince George’s County,” said County Executive Wayne Curry to the Prince George’s delegation Friday morning.
Curry met with the delegation before an afternoon joint session of four General Assembly committees dealing with spending and taxation. The committees gathered for an update on the Prince George’s County and Baltimore City public schools.
Curry’s meeting with the delegation was part briefing, part locker room pep talk.
“You have tough decisions to make,” Curry said. “You have to do the thing that is in the best interest of the county, and you may rub a lot of people the wrong way, as a result.”
The Prince George’s delegation has stood beside other counties on other issues, Curry said, but on this issue, they must stand up for themselves.
Curry and the delegation are afraid the county’s power to control its own schools will be taken away if the bickering between the county’s school board and a management oversight panel does not end.
The state legislature appointed the nine-member school oversight panel last spring to oversee a detailed audit of Prince George’s County schools. The audit found the school system has lost millions of dollars each year. The panel suggested the system deal with loose inventory controls and mismanagement of funds, among other things. The series of suggestions will save the county $125 million, according to the audit.
However, in order to put the county schools on par with the rest of the state, Superintendent Jerome Clark said the changes would cost more money. His proposed budget calls for a $86 million increase in the $931 million budget.
Artis G. Hampshire-Cowan, chairwoman of the oversight panel, said the budget does not seem to be heading in the right direction.
“We’re not making any judgments on whether the school system made the wrong decision, but we don’t have the information to say it is a good decision,” Hampshire-Cowan said, referring to the proposed budget increase.
The Prince George’s delegation and Curry are worried this bickering between these organizations will work to the disadvantage of the educational system.
“Can’t you just agree to disagree on certain things and get on with the business of schools?” Sen. Ulysses Currie, D-Prince George’s, asked Hampshire-Cowan in the joint session hearing.
All the disagreement makes great media soundbites, Currie said, but the education of the county’s children is suffering in the meantime.
Hampshire-Cowan assured the joint session that communications between the panel, superintendent, and the school board have been ironed out and things are progressing smoothly.
“I only ask the General Assembly to reserve comment until we’ve had time to do our work,” Hampshire-Cowan said.
In similar school reforms a year ago, state legislators transferred control of Baltimore City public schools from Mayor Kurt. L. Schmoke to an oversight panel that works with the Maryland State Department of Education. The District of Columbia school system also was placed under the supervision of a special advisory board.
“Nature abhors a vacuum. If a vacuum exists, someone will rush to fill it,” Curry said.