By Colin Byrd
(GREENBELT – January 14, 2021) – I am deeply concerned by the county executive’s decision to demote Ed Burroughs from his position as Vice Chair of the Prince George’s County Board of Education.
It is a slap in the face to elected school members, whom the county executive did not give a say in the appointment.
While the county executive certainly has the authority, under existing state law, to appoint the Vice Chair, her decision here was, at best, a misuse of that power and, at worse, an abuse of that power.
I agree with the county executive that, in this pandemic, the county and the school system should be addressing safe reopening and the achievement gap made wider by distance learning, but the fact of the matter is that the school board has been doing that. Any suggestion to the contrary would be incorrect.
Moreover, their focus on those issues does not and should not preclude them from being able to voice their concerns about the county executive’s decisions regarding the school board’s leadership. To imply that the pandemic, reopening, the achievement gap, and other county school system issues are mutually exclusive from who leads the board is akin to saying that the federal government’s handling of the pandemic and education is unrelated to who leads the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, the U.S. Department of Education, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Granted, this is not a perfect analogy, but you get the point. The focus should be on children, families, and teachers, but who leads the school board is critical to the fate of children, families, and teachers in the schools, when it comes to reopening, the achievement gap, and any other issue. Regarding teachers in particular, I would note that Burroughs and the other school board members who support him have long enjoyed strong support from the county’s teacher’s union, especially when compared to members appointed by the county executive.
I also agree with the county executive that our community is not interested in the kind of division we have seen in Washington, but, in fact, it is the county executive who, in demoting Burroughs without cause, is sowing division — sowing division that harkens back to the days of Rushern Baker. While there are certainly many Prince Georgians who feel that Baker did a good job on economic development and while he was ostensibly more ethical than Jack Johnson, I am not inclined to give Baker a profile in courage for a casino in National Harbor and for not taking money bags under the table, especially when I think about his handling of the county’s school system.
The fact of the matter is that Baker sowed extraordinary division on the school board by abusing the extraordinary power he successfully fought to have granted to him by the state legislature. He promised to do right by the county’s schools, but we know what ended up happening. Kevin Maxwell and Segun Eubanks made bad decisions after bad decisions for the county’s schools, and, time and time again, they disregarded the people of Prince George’s County, in part because Maxwell and Eubanks knew that they did not have to answer to the people. They only had to answer to Baker. Eubanks routinely stifled the voices of school board members and community members who disagreed with him, and Sonya Williams was right there with them every step of the way – every step of the way, she was a top lieutenant for Eubanks and Maxwell and agreed with them on virtually every bad decision they made.
The county executive says that she is not interested in expanding, protecting, and respecting political power, but, in fact, that is what it appears the decision to demote Mr. Burroughs was all about. It was about diluting the power of the elected members of the school board who overwhelmingly support Mr. Burroughs, while expanding the power of the county executive’s appointed members. This was a wrongheaded decision straight out of the Baker playbook.
When County Executive Alsobrooks first came into office in 2018, she made several good decisions related to the county’s school system, including parting ways with Segun Eubanks and letting the school board select its own vice chairman, and there is no good reason that she has decided to flip on the latter decision.
In explaining her decision to appoint Williams as Vice Chair, the county executive did not have much to say about Ms. Williams’s contributions to the school board. The county executive mainly cited Williams’s experience as a civil engineer as being critical to the county’s plan to build six new schools over the next four years, but I would note that Williams’s contributions to the school board’s approval of that project were not exceptional, nor were they why the proposal passed. While the proposal ultimately passed overwhelmingly, I would remind you that this was a controversial proposal that was criticized by many Prince George’s County residents and public interest advocates, and, in fact, it was Burroughs – not Williams – who secured a key change to the proposal – a project labor agreement – that helped ensure its passage and support from more skeptical elected members of the school board and, more importantly, that helped make the $1.2 billion project be a better deal for working people in Prince George’s County.
Notwithstanding that, I would also note that, while school construction is a very important issue for the county’s school system, it is far from the only issue that matters for the county’s schools. For at least twelve years, Burroughs has been instrumental in addressing many critical issues facing the county’s schools, and, in the last two years alone, he has sponsored (and unanimously) passed several measures to address a wide range of issues facing public education in the county, including financial literacy, conditional teacher certification, Black and Brown history curriculum, mental health services and social workers, community workforce agreements, and ending the school to prison pipeline.
Finally, although it is unstated, I understand that, because Ms. Williams is a proven rubber stamp for the county executive’s agenda, Ms. Williams was perhaps a very tempting choice for the county executive to re-appoint as Vice Chair, but I strongly encourage the county executive to reconsider her decision to bite from the undemocratic apple that Rushern Baker made a habit of biting from, because, to this day, the people and children of this county suffer from the messes created by the likes of Ms. Williams, Dr. Eubanks, and Dr. Maxwell under Baker’s reign.
Colin Byrd is the mayor of Greenbelt and has recently challenged House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer for that Congressional seat June 28, 2022. Currently, the 28-year-old is the youngest Black mayor in America and he’s also the youngest mayor in the history of Greenbelt in Prince George’s County, MD.