Recent incidents at Oxon Hill and Potomac High School graduations involving Prince George’s County Public Schools top administrators and Board of Education Member Edward Burroughs have received lots of media attention. What happened was unfortunate and does not reflect well on the school system.
My own child attends Oxon Hill High School and he was present at the graduation. However, what interests me most is not the details of exactly what happened and who I think was at fault. Rather, I find the series of events very reflective of the political culture in Prince George’s County.
Some background for those who do not closely follow the political happenings around PGCPS and our BOE. It is important to know that Edward Burroughs has long been at odds with the CEO of the school system, Dr. Kevin Maxwell. Under the new PGCPS governance structure, the school CEO is appointed by the County Executive, not the BOE. Thus, the CEO is accountable to the County Executive, even though he naturally works closely with the BOE. Mr. Burroughs’ vocal opposition to Dr. Maxwell—including his call for the school CEO to resign during the Head Start controversy last year—has labeled him a “troublemaker” in the eyes of the political establishment in our county.
When those aligned with the Prince George’s County political establishment talk about Mr. Burroughs and other troublemakers, the language I often here is that “we need to work together.” On its face this sounds constructive and reasonable. However, what the establishment really means by this sentiment is that our political leadership obviously knows what they are doing and everyone else needs to just follow their lead without questioning anything.
I will give an example of how this works. Mr. Burroughs has long been complaining that under Dr. Maxwell’s leadership the top PGCPS administrative staff and their salaries have ballooned. There is plenty of objective evidence to back up Mr. Burroughs’ concerns, including data gathered by the Washington Area Boards of Education. My own knowledgeable contacts within PGCPS also confirm that under Dr. Maxwell the school system has become top-heavy and more centralized. So, when Mr. Burroughs expresses such concerns that seem to be backed up by objective evidence and knowledgeable people, a school board that is truly working together would surely take these concerns seriously and start looking into it. But no, this is obviously not the kind of “working together” our political establishment wants. Instead, the majority of the board—which is closely aligned with the County Executive and the rest of the political establishment—acts as a rubber stamp on the CEO’s budget proposals and demands no serious explanations or reprioritization from him. This is the kind of “working together” our political establishment wants. Good cooperative elected officials that go along to get along. No complaints, not a lot of noise.
In the short term, this type of “working together” may be easy and get more positive headlines. However, this kind of establishment-dominated political culture—or machine politics—is a fertile breeding ground for all types of unethical and illegal behavior. And, sadly, we have seen plenty of negative headlines resulting from our establishment’s preferred method of operation.
What we need are more people like Edward Burroughs in office. Elected officials who will do what is right, not what the party bosses tell them to do.