EDUCATION

Rushern Baker seeking more school control

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A takeover of the Prince George's County School system's operational arm will lead to the more rapid enactment of academic reforms throughout the system, Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker says.

Appearing on "NewsTalk with Bruce DePuyt" on Monday morning, Baker said that reaction to his proposal to fold the superintendent's office under his watch would give the school system more stability and, more importantly, more time to focus on the needs of students and their families.

"This would afford the school board the ability to focus on academic improvements, preaching transparency, accountability and the coordination of our operation," Baker said.

Under his plan, the school's academic policy would still fall under the school board's realm; however, the operational portion of the system would be overseen by Baker and the Prince George's County Council.

He says that in other urban environments where a top county official was placed in charge of the schools, desired academic reforms have come faster. He cites Washington D.C. and New York City as examples of such success.

"I think the best way to move a government and a school system forward quickly is to have that kind of structure," Baker said. "There are enough checks and balances in it to make sure everything's covered.

"By us being able to align the operations structure into the executive branch and allowing the school board to focus on academic improvement and reform, we will be able to move the system forward quicker."

Baker is seeking state legislation that would put him in charge of the superintendent's office and the school system's $1.7 billion budget while reducing the power of the board of education.

The school system has had five superintendents in the past 10 years and the state's second-largest school system has ranked near the bottom statewide. Prince George's County has 123,000 students in its public school system. Most recently, Superintendent William Hite left the county in September of 2012 to take a job in Philadelphia.

Baker says he believes county residents should have someone to hold accountable for the performance of county schools, which he says are critical to drawing new residents to the county and promoting economic development. He says those who have been critical of his plan don't quite understand his vision of how it will move the county's education system forward.

"We keep the school board structure in place and add some expertise to help them with their core mission," Baker said. "The families of Prince George's County will know who to hold accountable, and that's the chief executive of the county."

Baker added that there are currently three candidates to take over as the county's superintendent, including interim superintendent Alvin Crawley. He has yet to meet with the other two, but says that if none of them fit his vision, he's willing to reopen the process.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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