SEABROOK – During a public hearing for new chief executive officer of Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) on May 13, parents and community leaders questioned the timing of starting a nationwide candidate search.
The new law that county officials are following does not state how a search should be conducted and how long it should take. However, the short time allotted for interviewing candidates and receiving community feedback, in addition to leaving Interim CEO Monica Goldson in an unstable position, has parents and community leaders worried that county officials are rushing the process.
“They have made our children part of a political process and they should never be, especially when it comes to education,” Oxon Hill High School parent Tanya Sweat said.
During Former County Executive Rushern Baker’s administration, a law was passed that gave the county executive the power to choose the school system’s CEO. The bill, called the Academic Revitalization and Management Effectiveness Initiative PG act, the county executive must choose someone recommended by a state-comprised search committee to fill in the role. The CEO position lasts for a four-year term.
The law states that by Feb. 1 of the CEO’s final year, the individual must alert the county executive if they would like to serve another term in the role. Because Goldson does “not meet the legal definition of an incumbent,” she did not have to state her intentions on staying in the role, Prince George’s County Chief of Staff John Ezren said.
However, former Board of Education member Linda Thomas said the spirit of the law was not followed. According to Thomas, the county should have started their search on Feb. 1 or right after Goldson was chosen to be the interim. Waiting to start a nationwide search does not give the county enough time to find the best possible candidate, Thomas said.
“Most school districts want to fill their positions before the start of the summer,” Thomas said. “For any school district, the summer is the time to prepare and you want to get a person in and out as quickly as possible and there are transfer concerns too because if they have a family, they have to bring their family…It takes time to do it; it takes school districts six months to do it.”
“The former county executive did not want to do anything to start the search, I’ll give you that,” Sweat, who is the outgoing Oxon Hill High School PTA president, said. “But Alsobrooks started on the 16 of January…. So why in god’s name did it take them more than three and a half months to figure out who is going to pay?”
This is the first time that that the new law would be administered under both Gov. Larry Hogan and County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. Because of this, there was confusion between state and county officials on how to start the process including putting together the search committee and figuring out who would find and pay for the search firm. These delays pushed back the start of the search, Erzen said.
“We had to get a ruling from the attorney general’s office on that in a little bit of time,” Erzen said. “Once the attorney general’s office concluded that the county needed to find and select a search firm, then we sought the process of doing that and choosing one.”
According to Erzen, once the county hired Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates (HYA) to lead the search, it began looking for candidates. It will cost Prince George’s County $40,000 out of its general fund. The search started on May 13.
Once HYA selects six-to-seven candidates, the state’s search committee will go through and select three that Alsobrooks will from to make her nomination. Alsobrooks said she was “very positive” that she and the search committee would make their selection before June 30.
“I think we would have like to have started it earlier,” Erzen said. “But we cannot put an exact date on when would have liked to have started it but in trying to get everything done by June 30, we would have like to start earlier so we could have more time.”
“I question if they will (meet the deadline),” Sweat said. “July 1 is the law and if the county executive wants me to believe that it takes three weeks to hire somebody, I got a problem with that. Every job I have ever applied for, as a professional, has taken me longer than three weeks to get hired.”
Following the public hearing. Alsobrooks announced that a link would be accessible on the PGCPS website to provide their comments on what they would like to see out of their CEO. However, both Sweat and Thomas said that the survey is not adequate enough in providing feedback as it is only available online and all the questions are ranking and rating-based questions.
“You can message it all over but the problem is that it is not going to over 5,000 people,” Thomas said. “Everyone does not have the opportunity to touch the process and that’s why they feel disenfranchised.”
Despite the county executive’s insistence, if the county cannot find an adequate CEO candidate by the June 30 deadline, there is a process that allows the county to Goldson’s contract to be extended 30 to 60 days, Ezren said. This would allow everyone involved to “rush through the process in finding a new CEO.”
While she would rather the county to take their time in finding the best candidate possible, Sweat said the new CEO would need time to acclimate to the county and their role. However, if a delay were to happen, everyone would be pushed back, making the situation worse for the school system, Sweat claimed.
“How does she expect me to believe that a nationwide search for qualified candidates, narrow them down to three names for her to choose from in less than 30 days,” Sweat said. “I’d say that is impossible.”