LANDOVER – Prince George’s County Board of Education (BOE) members up for re-election and their challengers were civil in discussing the system and changes needed moving forward in an open forum hosted by the Zion Church in Landover on Sept. 25.
Topics ranging from the importance of the board, teacher pay and structural repairs to school buildings were discussed in front of 60 people in attendance. All the candidates running for positions on the board were invited but only five made an appearance at the event.
All three current board members, Lupi Quinteros-Grady (District 2), Carolyn Maria Boston (District 6) and Sonya Williams (District 9) participated in the forum and updated the audience on current programs available for their children. They all provided an elevator pitch of stability and a promise to continue working with Prince George’s County Public Schools Interim CEO Monica Goldson.
“Our biggest problem with Prince George’s County is that we change leadership like we change our cars, every three-to-five years,” Williams said. “In order for us to be successful, we need to have stability and leadership. We also need to talk about our success.”
The only challenger who is taking on a current BOE member who attended was District 6 candidate Belinda Queen. The former member of the Democratic Central Committee came out aggressive but passionate in her speech, promising to add more vocational opportunities and programs in high schools to reach out to students who are not interested in going to college.
“I believe that it is our right to make sure our teachers are taken care of,” Queen said in her introduction. “If someone died for us, how dare we not keep care of the next generation. What is different about me is I believe in putting kids first and it is our right to make sure that our kids are educated.”
Boston, the Board’s Vice Chair, was the opposite of her opponent as she reminded the audience of her record of voting for programs like 3D Scholars, a partnership with PGCPS, Prince George’s Community College and University of Maryland University College that allows high school students the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree while in high school.
Boston also reference the success of the “Passport to Success Expo” that brought in colleges and local government agencies together to provide job opportunities to children in Oxon Hill High School on Sept. 22.
Queen quickly responded, providing her own background experience of graduating out of Northwestern High School but feeling that college was not the best next step. Opting to go to business school, Queen graduated and worked for Verizon for 28 years, she stated. Her personal experience is the main theme of her candidacy and the issues Queen is fond of.
“I retired at 45 (years-old),” Queen said. “I have been retired for over 10 years because I was blessed to work at a union company and what I am trying to do is bring trades back to our school system; we got to stop thinking that our kids deserve $15 an hour or less jobs.
“Our unions are willing to offer trainings because not every child is college-ready and not every child wants to go to college. Some children want out of our house and honestly, we want them out of our house.”
Both Boston and Queen never attacked one another personally during the forum but each presented themselves differently to standout to voters. In the primary, Boston narrowly edged out with 29.5 percent of the vote while Queen finished in second with 24.8 percent.
Meanwhile, for the vacant seat in District 3, only Pamela Boozer-Strother appeared for the panel, pushing her experience running nonprofit organizations and working alongside community organizations for her candidacy. She won the primary with 47.3 percent of the vote and is using her background of working together with teachers to improve their salaries and needs.
“Everyone knows that our teachers are not paid the same as other counties but what a lot of people do not understand is what it would take to close the gap,” Boozer-Strother, who will face former student board member Juwan Blocker in the general election, said.
“Does this mean tax increases? Does this mean charging developers for building on our development? I think we need more education on the issue and have a pathway together because this is not just BOE. This is the county council, Annapolis and this is bigger than us. But if we can create that pathway so we can get on par, it can be helpful to everyone.”
Michael Jenkins, a new resident to the Landover area, thought the forum was informative and enjoyed to ability to ask questions to the candidates. However, he felt his question on special need accommodations could have used a personal aside, which none of the current board members offered.
“I think is important to hear how each one has voted for in the past and learn what candidate stands for,” Jenkins said. “However, I wish they could have found a way to talk to me directly instead of asking me to talk to my local school. They are here now and can help solve the issue immediately.”
Quinteros-Grady will look to continue holding her District 2 seat against Eleanor Roosevelt alum Joshua Thomas while Williams hopes to be re-elected to her District 9 chair when she takes on educator Arun Puracken in the November general election. Both Thomas and Puracken did not attend the forum.