By William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer
Prince George’s County Public Schools may hire a firm to conduct an independent review of its graduation process, in response to a state audit last year that found undue grade changes and high absenteeism rates among graduating seniors.
A proposed contract of nearly $500,000 would allow D.C.-based Ernst & Young to analyze the school system’s action plan on whether county officials improved grading and absent procedures in the high schools. The audit will be based on high school seniors who graduated this year.
“Ernst & Young will provide a detailed summary report to include any misalignment regarding graduation requirements, as well as specific recommendations for correction of deficiencies or errors,” according to a resolution.
The resolution nearly didn’t come up for any discussion at a school board meeting Thursday, June 28.
Schools system CEO Kevin Maxwell recommended the board approve hiring the firm and placed it as an emergency item on the agenda.
Board member Edward Burroughs III asked to place the item as a first-reader, or preliminary item, so that the board could not only discuss it more thoroughly but so that it wouldn’t be approved that night.
“We need a lot more time for something … as important as the graduation rate,” he said before he requested to not adopt the entire board agenda.
Because another colleague backed his motion, the board voted 6-6 to not adopt the board agenda. The tie vote ended just minutes after it started.
Board Chairman Segun Eubanks explained that board members could’ve deferred a vote when the contract came up for discussion, or simply voted against it.
“I’m going to currently ask us to do this right way,” he said. “Please, let’s vote so we can have a meeting.”
Burroughs requested to amend the agenda and present the proposal as a first-reader.
Because of that, the board will have to meet again this month to discuss and possibly approve the resolution to hire Ernst & Young. If the board agreed to hire the company Thursday, then it wouldn’t meet again until Aug. 23.
The state Board of Education announced in May it will conduct a second audit of the schools system which could take about six months to complete.
County school officials have conducted mandatory training on grading procedures, alerted parents through recorded telephone calls on a timeline to appeal grades and continuous evaluations of SchoolMAX, an online portal used by teachers to post grades students and parents can review.
Meanwhile, Maxwell received a surprise award from the “Men of PGCPS” as the system’s leader for “excellence in education” and “dedication service to the students, parents, families, educators and personnel to the Prince George’s County public schools.”
Maxwell received a standing ovation from school officials, the majority of the board and dozens in attendance at the meeting. Three board members who didn’t stand up —Burroughs, David Murray and Raaheela Ahmed — have written letters to County Executive Rushern L. Baker III to examine why Maxwell allegedly signed off on unauthorized pay increases for some central office personnel.
Maxwell, who makes nearly $300,000 annually, announced in May he would “transition” out of the school system, but it remains unclear when exactly he plans to step down and whether the board will agree to offer him a severance package.