There are 5 seats on the Prince George’s County Board of Education up for grabs this November 6th. After last night’s forum featuring the candidates, I strongly encourage you to vote wisely and take candidates wishing to fill these school board seats under serious consideration PRIOR to voting. If the school system and its leaders are mediocre, so goes the county.
I was told that not many people would attend this forum, but much like most of what is said about Prince George’s County, this turned out to be untrue. Each candidate was tasked with giving an opening statement, telling of why they are running for the seat or why they’d like to hold on to their seat. Zabrina Epps sees herself as an advocate for students and her focus is bettering test scores and ensuring students are prepared for post-secondary education. David Murray, whom she’s running against for the District 1 seat, believes he’s the man for the seat because he uniquely understands the school system as a result of his experience working with nonprofits and parent teacher groups.
Raaheela Ahmed, candidate for District 5 seat currently held by resident bitter pill Verjeana Jacobs, is an 18 year old student at Maryland University, and thinks a bridge between the community and schools must be built and she is just the one to do it. Coming right on Ahmed’s heels was Verjeana Jacobs who insisted she is the only “qualified candidate” running for the District 5 seat. Jacobs is the current Board of Education Chair and came across as hostile, irritated, and dismissive the entire evening. She’s credentialed, experienced, but now I have to take a deeper consideration of her opposition, Ahmed, because my thought is if she can’t hold it together in a forum, how the heck is she going to be a viable part of the county and statewide political process and how will our County be viewed if she is it’s bitter, appalled face?
Carletta Fellows‘ opening statement was one of the few with focus. Her endeavor is to advocate for the “urban” needs unique to schools in District 7, which includes District and Capitol Heights. Streamlining the budget process and fiscal responsibility are also Fellows’ driving factors for running. The incumbent, Henry P. Armwood was pretty pedestrian and said nothing new. Please elect me, I understand the system. Maybe that’s the problem with the board.
Edward Burroughs, current District 8 school board member and rising superstar, is now running unopposed; word came that Andre Nottingham dropped out of the race but Burroughs wanted to stay and be a part of the forum. This young man is going places in politics. He’s very engaging, comfortable, knowledgeable. His impetus for initially running for the school board seat was disparities between north and south county schools. Burroughs acknowledged that disparities still exist but he has helped better facilities at Crossland High and his experience will enable him to move the school board forward for more improvements.
One of the questions posed by the moderator was where could there be a cut to the school board budget without hurting the school system. David Murray suggested cuts to the central office along with an outside audit, while Epps displayed a bit more depth of thought in acknowledging outside audits as a good idea and the need for a full budget analysis, but cautioning against the costs of audits. I think an audit would be worth the cost for the entire county government actually. Might weed out some pests if they knew we were spraying.
The search for a new School Superintendent will be a integral to the job of the incoming school board members and, if I have my way, monitored quite closely. When asked what they are looking for in a Superintendent candidate, all candidates expressed a need for a good communicator, a person with vision. On the topic of communication with constituents, Micah Watson touted his track record of responding to the public and said he’d do a better job than incumbent Patricia Eubanks.
There was much agreement by the incumbents and candidates on the pros and cons of student based budgeting; most noting that it gives the schools flexibility in hiring/firing. Contrasts on how to address special needs children came from Armwood and Fellows in that Armwood acknowledged never having it as a concern, while Fellows had a grasp on the needs of children who “learn differently.”
Why should people vote for you? That was the question of the evening. Some defended their case, some tanked. V. Jacobs brought to light her outreach efforts which she said began “years ago” and emphasized that being a seated member of the board of Education is not the place for “on the job training.” A real bitter pill we have here. I wouldn’t continue to harp on it but the disdain she showed for her young opponent was remarkable. Zabrina Epps, while clearly more experienced and seasoned than David Murray, emphasized her her work experience in academia and varied degrees without taking a swipe at Murray even though his major experience bearing him to this point is his active matriculation through the Prince George’s County School System. It is valid experience and not to be so easily dismissed. I like Murray and really wish that both he and Epps could serve together. They kind of balance each other out. Murray has great ideas and outreach hustle but Epps has the professional wisdom to progress ideas to programs. Murray suggested better pay for teachers who are willing to go into failing schools, an idea I know has failed in DC. Epps initiated outreach to teachers who have left Prince George’s for greener pastures in other jurisdictions to analyze their reasons for leaving and understand how to better retain the great teachers still within the system.
The sense I got from the more entrenched incumbents like Eubanks and Jacobs is that they are appalled at being challenged. I don’t like or trust that. Eubanks actually likened electing new school board members to taking away a parent or something like that. Come on now; it’s not that serious. Eubanks took issue with Raaheela mentioning the ranking of Prince George’s Schools (no. 22 of 25) and noted that we must “compare apples to apples.” She said that one of the school districts that ranks higher than Prince George’s is very small and it’s an unfair comparison. But what about the other 21 school districts that rank higher than ours? It’s still a fact.
Some special people were in attendance last night. Peep the pics below.