Op/Ed: From the Desk of Carletta Fellows: Response to Washington Post Editorial: "Prince George's Faces An Education Reality Check"
"Is the County serious about wanting a better school system?"
By Carletta Fellows, Candidate for Prince George's County School Board
(WASHINGTON, DC - June 28, 2012) - I hope this message finds you well. This analysis is in response to the June 27, 2012 Washington Post Editorial, entitled "Prince George's Faces An Education Reality Check (see link below). The editorial raises the question, "Is the County serious about wanting a better school system?" Also, the editorial makes the following statement, "The Superintendent answers to an ever changing school board, which may have three members under the age of 21 after the November elections."
I choose not to address the question of whether or not the school system will have three (3) members under the age of 21 after the November elections. However, I am going to discuss the remarks made regarding the ever changing school board to give an historical perspective on the Prince George's County School Board Representatives.
Please be warned that this commentary is going to be extremely long and cumbersome, but to me the only way to critically analyze the Washington Post Editorial is to be historically correct. The Washington Post assertion of “ever changing school boards,” is intellectually incomplete without any historical analysis. To understand the question posed regarding the County's seriousness about wanting a better school system requires first and foremost defining the County. It also requires a demographic analysis of the County by race, education and income.
In 1980, the population of Prince George's County was approximately 661,000. This represented a loss of one half of one percent in comparison to the 1970 census count. In 1970 the Black population in Prince George's County was 14%. The Black population grew to 37% in 1980. This transition represented an out migration of 150,000 Whites leaving the County.
In 1990, the census population count for Prince George's County was 721,520. This reflected an 8% increase over the 1980 census population numbers. This number again reflects the out migration of 50,000 Whites. The demographic break down of the county in 1990 was 50% Black, 45% White, 5% Other. To quote then, County Executive Parris Glendening, "Prince George's County is an All American City." Please note that the Prince George's County School System in 1990 was 70% Non White and 30% White.
The loss of 200,000 Whites between 1970 - 1990 meant that the School System was now a Majority Black educational system. It was in this context that the 1991 School Board Redistricting Committee commenced to redraw the nine (9) School Board representative boundaries.
The principle members of the joint Maryland General Assembly School Board Committee for Redistricting was Senator Leo Green, Senator Decatur Trotter, Delegate James Proctor, School Board Representative Thomas Hendershot, and School Board Representative Fred Hutchinson.
The official argument was how many African American voting age school board districts should there be. The Whites on the School Board Redistricting Committee wanted to have five (5) White Voting Age School Board districts located in Northern PG County. The Blacks on the School Board Redistricting Committee wanted five (5) Majority Minority Voting Age districts.
The Leo Green and Thomas Hendershot plan that was adopted into law created what they believed to be five (5) White Northern County School Board Districts which would continue to give Whites in Northern PG County continued control over the Prince George's County school system.
It was suprising that in 1992 Beverly Brander (a Black woman) defeated Doris Eugene (a White woman) for the school board election in District 1. The White residents of School Board District 1 chose to elect in a White Voting Age district a Black female. This gave Blacks four (4) seats on the School Board; Beverly Brander (SBD 1), Brenda Hughes (SBD 6), Alvin Thornton (SBD 7), and Fred Huthinson (SBD 8). Thus began the dilemma of Whites trying to control a school board system where the student population was 75% non-White and 25% White. The goals of the four (4) Black voting members of the school board was to increase the reading and math scores on standardized tests. The issue of poverty affecting families eligible for free or reduced meals were more important than the number and quality of Advanced Placement Classes. The issues confronting Black students in Southern PG County were similar to the issues of students in Northwestern Prince George's County. School Board District 2 had large populations of students living in rental apartments. Problems of crime, drugs and violence were prevalent in these schools. The large Latino population brought issues such as English as a second language (ESOL) to the forefront. How would Latino children who did not speak English going to achieve academic success in a system designed for White middle class children?
In 1996, Angela Como defeated Bevery Brander. This election completed the Green-Hendershot vision of having five (5)White Northern County school board representatives controlling the PG County School System. However, complications arose when Marcy Canavan, SBD 9 representative, chose not to run for re-election in 1996. Keep in mind that In 1992, the Marcy Canavan verses Joyce Charles School Board race was racially polarizing inSouthern County. The Washington Post denounced the late Joyce Charles as an un-fit candidate for School Board. Joyce Charles felt that the school system was trying to create a private school program within the public school system. Blacks in Southern Prince George's County felt that schools in Northern PG County were getting the best teachers, programs and facilities. In 1994, Senator Mike Miller wanted to select Marcy Canavan to be on his slate for County Council District 9. The Black response was so negative to Marcy Canavan, he selected Jim Estepp to be his Council Member for Council seat 9.
In 1996 Marcy Canavan decided not to run for re-election for School Board District 9. Marilynn Bland was elected with the support of the Coalition of Concerned Christian Men in this election.
In 1997 there were five (5) Whites on the School Board from Northern County(SBD, 1, SBD 2, SBD 3, SBD 4, SBD 5). In the Southern portion of the County there were four (4) Black School Board Members (SBD 6, SBD 7, SBD 8, SBD 9). In the 1996 election, Ken Johnson replaced Brenda Hughes who went on to become Delegate for Legislative District 25. Based on these aforementioned representative dynamics, the fighting over resources began in Prince George’s County School System. This battle of resources was further complicated by the dynamic of four (4) Black members fighting for resources for Central and Southern PG County against five (5) White members who were fighting for resources for Northern PG County.
In 1998, Jim Henderson (a Black man) won School Board District 2 when Susan Plogman (a White woman) decided to retire. This gave Blacks five (5) seats on the School Board and these five (5) Blacks elected Ken Johnson to be School Board Chair.
The 2000 census showed a net increase of over 80,000 people in Prince George’s County. The County was now 73% non White, 27% White. The exodus of 40,000 Whites from Prince George’s County resulted in the Prince George’s County school system being less than 18% White.
With the end of additional State funds for Talent and Gifted programs and Magnet Schools especially aimed at retaining Whites in the school system, a defensive battle began for resources for communities. Thus the battle began with schools that were labeled inner belt-way schools and outer belt-way schools which became the center piece of all operating budget and capital improvement plans. Inner beltway schools were classified as schools with large groupings of poor and working class families. Outer beltway schools were identified as schools with middle and upper income income families. The definition of White -vs- Black took a back seat to the question of income and status.
In 2001, Senate President Mike Miller, Prince George’s County Senate Delegation Chair, Paul Pinsky, and Prince George’s County House of Delegate Chair, Rushern Baker decided that the best way to solve this debate was to abolish and dismantle the elected school board. This was all under the guise that the elected school board was dysfunctional. (see article below entitled “Prince George’s Leaders Ask Assembly toStripCounty’s School Board Powers)
Listed below are the names and race of the school board members who were appointed to represent Prince George’s County School Board on July 1, 2002. These individuals were appointed by then, Governor Parris Glendening and County Executive Wayne Curry. (see article below entitled “Nine Appointed to Prince George’s School Board)
Beatrice Tignor, Chair (Black female)
Howard Stone, Vice Chair (Black male)
Abby L.W. Crowley (White female)
Charlene Dukes (Black female)
Robert O. Duncan (White male)
Judy Mickens-Murray (Black female)
Jose Morales (Latino male)
Dean Sirjue (Asian male)
While this struggle ensued, the Coalition of Concerned Christian Black Men of Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington, and the Washington Lawyers Committee, Civil Rights Under The Law began a legal challenge against the Maryland General Assembly's action of abolishing the elected school board. In response to the pending legal challenge, Senator Mike Miller added language to the bill signaling a restoration of the school board as an elected body with five (5) single member districts and four (4) at-large representatives by the year 2006.
In 2004, Janis Hagey and Delegate Rosetta Parker initiated action to restore the PG School Board to nine (9) single member districts. During the 2006 Maryland General Assembly legislative session, sufficient votes were gathered in the PG County Delegation to pass the Parker Bill. In the House of Delegates, Carolyn J.B. Howard and Obie Patterson were champions of the Parker Bill. In the Senate, Nathaniel Exum was being pressured to sponsor the Parker Bill. However, Senator Exum took no action.
In February of 2006, Senator Gloria Lalah and Senator Nathaniel Exum had a series of meetings with advocates of the Parker Bill. The advocates for the Parker Bill were represented by Labor Unions, Churches, PG NAACP and the League of Women Voters. Senator Lalah offered an alternative bill which created nine (9) single member districts with an addition of a Chair and Vice Chair; increasing the board from nine (9) to eleven (11). The Chair and Vice chair were to be appointed by the Governor and theCounty Executive.
The Parker Bill and the Senator Lalah substitute bill did not have sufficient votes to pass in the Maryland General Assembly. The result of this failure led to the Board of Elections upholding the (5) single member/ four (4) at-large representative plan for the 2006 Primary and General Elections.
Listed below are the districts’, names and race of the individuals elected to the Prince George’sCounty School Board in 2006.
SBD 1 – Rosilyn Johnson (Black female)
SBD 2 – Heather Iliff (White female)
SBD 3 – Pat Fletcher (Black female)
SBD 4 –LindaThomas (Black female)
SBD 5 – Owen Johnson (Black male)
At-large – Donna Hathaway Beck (White female)
At-large – Verjeana Jacobs (Black female)
At-large – Nathaniel Thomas (Black male)
At-large – Ronald Watson (Black male)
Please note that Nathaniel Thomas resigned in 2007 and Amber Waller was appointed by then, County Executive Jack Johnson.
In 2009 Senator C. Anthony Muse revived and revised the Parker Bill and it was successfully signed into law. This Bill required that in 2010 there would be a staggered election for nine (9) single member school board districts. The five districts receiving the lowest voter turn out would have to run within two years and the four receiving the highest voter turn out would run for re-election after the four year mark. Listed below are the districts, name and race and the dates each incumbent have to stand for re-election.
SBD 1 – Rosilyn Johnson (Black female) – Re-election Bid 2012
SBD 2 – Peggy Higgins (White female) – Re-election Bid 2014
SBD 3 – Amber Waller (Black female) – Re-election Bid 2014
SBD 4 – Patricia Eubanks (Black female) – Re-election Bid 2012
SBD 5 – Verjeana Jacobs (Black female) – Re-election Bid 2012
SBD 6 – Caroline Boston (Black female) – Re-election Bid 2014
SBD 7 – Henry Armwood (Black male) – Re-election Bid 2012
SBD 8 – Edward Burroughs (Black male) – Re-election Bid 2012
SBD 9 – Donna Hathaway Beck (White female) – Re-election Bid 2014
To fully understand where we are today on the 2012 School Board elections, we have to reflect on the redistricting process. In 2011 the Maryland General Assembly was required by Federal and State Laws and after the decennial census to redraw the nine (9) school board districts. The Redistricting School Board Committee was composed of Senator Joanne Benson, Senator Anthony Muse, Delegate Aisha Braveboy, Delegate Marvin Holmes and School Board Chair Verjeana Jacobs. This committee produced a redistricting plan that represented communities of interest, school board boundaries and the racial demographics of Prince George’s County. There were approximately 6 forums. There were also plenty of interfaces between the County Council Redistricting Commission.
Senator Doug J.J. Peters, Chair of PG Senate Delegation rejected this committees plan. He unilaterally, along with Paul Pinsky and Senate President Mike Miller introduced his alternative plan. There were no public forums on the Peter's plan in Prince George’s County; there were no interaction with the PG County School Board Chair or the other eight (8) members of the School Board; nor were there interfaces with the Prince George’s County Council Redistricting Commission. The Doug Peter's plan went unabated and was approved by the Maryland General Assembly and signed into law by Governor O’Malley in October, 2011.
Before concluding this dissertation ….I have to inform you that during the 2011 School Board Redistricting process, the Washington Post did not do one news article or editorial on Prince George’s County School Board redistricting. Before the 2012 School Board Primary, the Washington Post only did two stories on the School Board elections. Both stories raised the issue of three teenagers running for school board in Prince George’s County. The Washington Post did not do any articles on School Board issues concerning race, class, or geography. Therefore, I believe the Washington Post fails its own "pop quiz" on understanding school board elections in Prince George’s County. This is not an attack on the Washington Post but a mere observation of its lack of journalistic responsibility for OUR communities and interest.
Lastly, the Washington Post indicated that almost every politician including the Board of Education in Prince George's County interferes with the school educational system because they know what's best. The question of governance and legitamacy is not addressed. Does the Superintendent act in a vacuum as an educational expert? What is the role of elected officials in this process? What is the role of parents in this process? How does the Washington Post or anyone separate out legitimate forms of government from unwanted or unnecessary interference. In short, who does Prince George's County Public School System belong to? Does it belong to the Governor? Does it belong to the Maryland General Assembly? Does it belong to the County Executive? Does it belong to the PG County Council? Each of these four entities play a leadership role in providing governance and funding to the Prince George's County School System. I contend that the Prince George's County School System belongs to the Tax payers of Maryland. The parents of the children in Prince George's County should be the Board of Directors. The Superintendent, in my opinion, is to implement the competing interest of the aformentioned groups under guidance and leadership of the Prince George's County School Board.
The reason that I am running for Prince George’s County School Board District 7 is because I have been placed in three different school board districts reflecting no communities of interest. As an educator in and out of the classroom, I feel it is necessary to be on the School Board to represent the children, the communities and impact public policy.
6/27/2012 WashPost Editorial: Prince George's Faces An Education Reality Check
Prince George’s Leaders Ask Assembly toStripCounty’s School Board Power
Nine Appointed toPrince George’s School Board
Carletta Fellows, Candidate
Prince George's County School Board, District 7
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