UPPER MARLBORO – Weeks after the loss of the county’s Head Start grant rocked the community, Prince George’s County Schools (PGCPS) is still trying to tread water with new shake-ups and a state-run investigation. Last week, the school system faced even more scrutiny after emails from the chief of staff mentioning Head Start were leaked […]
UPPER MARLBORO – Weeks after the loss of the county’s Head Start grant rocked the community, Prince George’s County Schools (PGCPS) is still trying to tread water with new shake-ups and a state-run investigation.
Last week, the school system faced even more scrutiny after emails from the chief of staff mentioning Head Start were leaked to a local news station.
The emails highlighted a conversation between the chief of staff, George Margolies, and Prince George’s County Board of Education Vice-Chair Carolyn Boston in which the two disagreed on how to share information with the board of education.
In the email Margolies refers to a compromise made between he and Boston with help from Board Chair Segun Eubanks. That compromise was to put the meeting minutes from the Head Start Advisory Council in the “Follow Up Items” section of the board agenda, meaning they would not be discussed.
“I believe the board chair acknowledges this to the few people remaining in the audience at that time – as simply that posted in Boarddocs are the responses to follow up items sent to the administration,” he wrote. “Well, in similar fashion, we are being asked now to send to the board office for posting in Boarddocs at the same location on the agenda the minutes of the most recent meeting of the Head Start Advisory Council. This will not be a discussion item. Dr. Eubanks will simply make reference that they are posted there for the board member’s reading pleasure.”
This came after Margolies described interactions with Boston in which she insisted that there be a board discussion of all Head Start advisory meetings and Margolies insisted that, if the board took time to discuss one program at every board meeting, than other programs like special education or talented and gifted would also want a reoccurring presence on board agendas.
The email also mentioned “recent discussions over the past many months over the viability” of the Head Start grant and the “contractual relationship with the federal government,” which Boardmember Edward Burroughs believes show indicators of a cover-up.
“The email says the board chair made a deal, that Carolyn agreed to, to bury this information and not disclose it to the public or the board,” he said. “So at that point when she accepted that deal and Dr. Eubanks mediated that deal, they became complacent in the cover-up.”
After the emails were leaked to the media, Kevin Maxwell, chief executive officer of PGCPS, released a statement saying he had asked Margolies to step down. However, Maxwell said he did not believe the email showed signs of a cover-up but rather said he asked Margolies to step down due to his “inappropriate tone” with members of the board.
“This email does not constitute evidence of a conspiracy or cover-up. It was solely about the format of how information is shared with the board and not if information is shared with the board related to the Head Start Policy Council,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell said he does see how the emails have a detrimental effect on the trust between administrative staff and the board of education, but emphasized that the email was taken out of context.
He did, however, apologize to the board for Margolies’ tone and said it does not reflect the type of relationship he wants the administration to have with the board moving forward.
Burroughs said he appreciated the apology to the board, but felt the school system is not doing enough to resolve reoccurring issues, to increase transparency and gain back community trust.
“We tell our students that integrity is when you do the right thing when no one is watching and it’s clear to me that the only time (the administration) does the right thing is when everyone is watching and that’s not the integrity we need in the school system,” Burroughs said.
At the board of education work session last Thursday, Maxwell also announced he is asking the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) to launch a performance audit on the PGCPS Head Start program. As part of that audit all PGCPS employees will be required to “provide documents and supporting information as needed by MSDE.”
The scope of the audit will include recommendations for improvement in all facets of the program, and although this brings the investigation into the loss of the $6.5 million Head Start grant to the state level, Burroughs said he is not convinced this investigation will go far enough.
“We need a criminal investigation. Students were abused, potentially molested. There are documents that spell out that there was misuse of federal funds,” he said. “So, a review about curriculum and pedagogy does not satisfy my requirement, and when he said MSDE was coming in to do an external review, I was excited about it. I thought we were moving in the right direction, but when I read the scope of it, it was absolutely not sufficient.”
District 5 Boardmember Verjeana Jacobs agreed.
“When you’re talking about the kinds of egregious acts that we have looked at, coupled with what has been an ongoing problem in this school system, it is not far enough. Not even close to far enough,” she said.
Jacobs said the school system needs a more “forensic kind of review” and doesn’t think MSDE is capable of that.
However, Maxwell said he would specifically include the request for an investigation into who knew what when and who should be prosecuted for child abuse and neglect in his letter to the state superintendent.
“When I spoke with the state superintendent, I included that and if you would like that specifically stated, I will revise the letter and resend it tomorrow to the state superintendent,” he said.