Prince George's County Council members are lamenting their lack of power under County Executive Rushern Baker's proposal to take over the county school system.
While Baker's plan was originally going to be introduced to the state legislature by amending a bill that already had been introduced in the House of Delegates, a separate bill was introduced Monday in the state Senate with many of the provisions the executive wanted, including placing the superintendent in his Cabinet and adding appointed members to the county school board.
While the newly introduced bill does not cede control of the school system's $1.7 billion budget to Baker -- a sticking point throughout much of the debate -- it does not allow for County Council oversight, either. Council members expressed their frustration Tuesday during a briefing on the legislation.
"Without fiduciary oversight as the council has for every other agency, we do our citizens a disservice," said Chairwoman Andrea Harrison, D-Bladensburg. "Everyone learned in civics that the government is about checks and balances -- there are no checks and balances as I see it."
The council ended discussion without making a formal decision on whether to endorse the Senate bill, choosing instead to focus on lawmakers' desire for a say in the school system's budget.
"I'm not saying that we are comfortable with all parts of the bill, but at a minimum that's a statement we should make," said Councilman Mel Franklin, D-Upper Marlboro. "I think we need to move toward having greater fiscal oversight at the line-item level."
While some members expressed support for Baker's proposed takeover, others took issue with the amount of control he would wield. Under the Senate bill, two voting members would be added to the school board -- one appointed by the council and one appointed by the executive. A two-thirds majority of the board would be able to override a decision by the superintendent, but the executive's appointee would have veto power over the process.
"With all due respect, I think that goes a little too far," said Councilwoman Mary Lehman, D-Laurel. "I think the county executive's overstepping his bounds."
Baker defended the proposal during a telephone town hall with more than 16,000 Prince George's residents, calling it a way to ensure that the superintendent has all the resources of the county government at his or her disposal.
"It's not just the four walls of the school system -- it's about public safety, it's about health care, it's about social services," he said. "We can accept the status quo and make no measurable changes, or we can change the way our schools operate by passing this important piece of legislation."