ANNAPOLIS – Voters could recall and replace members of the troubled Prince George’s County School board under a bill proposed Friday.
The bill, the ninth to address restructuring the board, will be presented to citizens in a public hearing in Prince George’s County before delegates discuss it in Annapolis.
“This is putting control back into the hands of the voters who put the school board members in,” said Delegate Joan Pitkin, D-Prince George’s, bill sponsor.
The other eight bills propose replacing some or all of the nine elected seats with appointed ones, or replacing district seats with at-large spots. One bill would require any board restructuring be approved by voters in a referendum.
Community members and a representative from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have attended nearly every delegation meeting to oppose plans that take away elected seats. The idea for the recall bill came from discussion of those other plans, Pitkin said.
“This is another side of the coin,” she said. “All the conversations keep hearkening back to personalities of individuals. This is a more precise tool for getting at individuals.”
The recall bill has the support of community members who fear an appointed board would weaken their voting power, said Janis Hagey, a Bowie resident who attended Friday’s delegation meeting.
“We think this can be part of a consensus bill,” she said. “This will address the needs, not take away the right of citizens to vote.”
Delegates will begin discussing the education bills as early as Wednesday and likely will combine several of them.
If the recall measure passes the delegation and the General Assembly it would take effect in time for current members to be replaced on the November ballot, Pitkin said.
Under the bill, voters would submit a 200-word complaint against a member along with signatures from 25 percent of the number of votes cast in the school board election.
The targeted member could file a 200-word response. Both statements would appear on the ballot, along with names of new candidates. Removal and replacement would happen simultaneously.
Nineteen states have some provision to recall elected officials, according to the Council of State Governments. Maryland has none. The recall bill would apply only to Prince George’s County.
Prince George’s school problems have been the subject of much discussion in Annapolis this session. The school system, overseen by a state-appointed oversight panel, has struggled with underfunding and a tumultuous relationship between the board and superintendent. The schools rank near the bottom of the state on standardized test scores.
The superintendent and board members came before a joint hearing of four committees Thursday to discuss their relationship and the school system’s progress. They said the schools have improved but remain underfunded.
Senate Majority Leader Clarence W. Blount, D-Baltimore, told the school officials to squabble behind closed doors if they must, but appear united in public.
“Get your act together,” he said. “You owe that to the people of Prince George’s County.”