By Reform Sasscer Staff:
One of the newly elected Board of Education member Belinda Queen has resigned. A first-term board member, who has been tough but fair has been embroiled in controversy in recent months, announced her resignation Thursday on social media. Her resignation will take place on March 7th, 2022.
Belinda hit the ground running in 2019 after she got elected when she demanded answers after discovering corruption at High Point High School in Prince George’s County public Schools (PGCPS). “First question, which the public should be asking: What took anyone in the Board so long?”, She asked at the time. (See the report here).
Belinda becomes the 3rd Board member to resign after former Board of Education member now Councilman Edward Burroughs III resigned to run for county council District 8. Burroughs resignation was followed by Raaheela Ahmed, 28, who served on the district’s school board for the past five years. She steped down, effective Feb. 19, to run for the Maryland Senate seat, currently held by incumbent Ron Watson. He was appointed to the District 23 seat by Gov. Larry Hogan in August.
Belinda is resigning to run for county council District 6 after unearthing wide ranging system corruption on the county level.
School board members are largely unpaid volunteers, traditionally former educators and parents who step forward to shape school policy, choose a superintendent and review the budget. But a growing number are resigning or questioning their willingness to serve as meetings have devolved into shouting contests between deeply political constituencies over how racial issues are taught, masks in schools, ethics reports, COVID-19 vaccines and testing requirements etc.
School Board Tensions
School board members across the country have received threats and hateful messages, sparked by tense debates over mask mandates and other COVID-19 rules, LGBTQ books and the teaching of race. However, here in the Prince George’s county though, the local board is in tension after some Board members questioned how public land, money was being utilized to build new schools without transparency.
News of land being set aside for purposes of education and/or public use is typically met with celebration. But an increasing chorus of voices within Prince George’s County and the real estate industry is casting doubt on whether public money is being used properly throughout Prince George’s county. “We live in a time when Prince George’s county struggles mightily to adequately fund schools and social services. If we are going to expend funds for Education, the county should be paying current fair market value supported by analysis that would pass muster with private market buyers, said Matt Lowery.”
Her departure creates a vacancy on the school board. By law, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks has the authority to appoint a replacement. Other departed board members have said they see the iron in that , given county Executive Alsobrooks wanted to have them removed through unorthodox means using drummed up ethics report.
Belinda is among the elected members of the school board that have pushed to see the structure of the board overhauled from a mix of appointed and elected members to an all-elected school board.
She and others have clashed repeatedly with board chair Juanita Miller, who holds one of the seats on the school board appointed by Alsobrooks.
Belinda was first elected to the Prince George’s County Board of Education in 2018 defeating Carolyn Boston overwhelmingly. However, she began her political career earlier. She first ran for the Prince George’s County Democratic State Committee, before running for the Prince George’s County Board of Education.
“ It has been an honor and a privilege to serve the residents of District 6 and each and every scholar, Parent of PGCPS and the community… I feel honored to have accomplished everything that I ran to do in putting kids first ” ..Belinda wrote in among other issues in her resignation letter. To do otherwise, would have been the district failure.”It has been a pleasure working with each one of you,” she wrote.
Drummed up Ethics Charges.
After major fallout with county Executive Angela Alsobrooks last year, the ethics panel acting under orders above organized a scheme to deprive elected board members of their powers in the county. Thus, after the Prince’s George’s County School Board recommended that six elected board members either resign or be removed following an investigation.
The charges came after those same board members petitioned the state to remove the board’s chair. Their initial complaint was recently dismissed without prejudice citing lack of an affidavit but has since been refiled.
The ethics findings are not public, but documents were reviewed by the press. They were also anonymously sent to each elected leaders throughout the county.
The ethics panel recommended the resignation or removal of Edward Burroughs, David Murray, Raaheela Ahmed, Joshua Thomas, Kenneth Harris and Shayla Adams-Stafford. The panel recommended sanctions for Belinda Queen.
ONGOING PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD FEUD LEAVES STUDENTS, STAFF IN LIMBO
Only the state board of education can remove a board member from office.
Some board members have hired attorneys since then, and three are represented by former Prince George’s Co. State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey.
Recently, the State Board cleared Board member David Murray and the State Board cleared Edward Burroughs III
PGCPS BOARD MEMBERS PETITION STATE TO REMOVE BOARD CHAIR
“I know it’s supposed to be confidential, but somebody took it upon themselves to anonymously mail them around to elected officials in the county,” said Ivey. “And I happen to live with two of them.”
The ethics findings say board members violated policy when they hired a board lobbyist and when they decided to reorganize the board office, making staffing changes and prompting a “federal discrimination lawsuit.”
“I think they are riddled with inaccuracies and false on their face,” said Ivey of the findings.
Some board members are also accused of a pay-to-play scheme involving a labor union they received campaign contributions from.
Ivey said that the actual resolution passed by the board does not name the labor union in question and disputed the notion that there was anything unethical about the campaign donations.
Board chair Dr. Juanita Miller called for this ethics investigation soon after she was appointed by the county executive as board chair.
More recently, this group of elected board members petitioned the state to have her removed, making their own misconduct claims against Miller.
While there was a public board meeting at night, the primary discussion about the ethics investigation happened in executive session.
Six members, mostly appointed, voted to accept the findings. The seven members under investigation were barred from voting. This left them shaken to the core after County Executive Alsobrooks went after them for drummed up “ethics violations” until they ran scared for their dear lives as their political future was on the line. However, Alsobrooks is violating the law and her administration is engaged in violating peoples rights using the court system to punish some personnel in the school system and others opposed to their illegal schemes using lawyers tied to them, records show.
Belinda’s resignation from PGCPS comes at a sensitive time, when corruption, in particular in Prince George’s county has become a state capture, leading to polarization among county citizens: those in support of corrupt regimes (because of kickbacks and handouts) versus those opposed to them. In the presence of diametrically opposed groups in society, compromise and reasoned discussion has diminished in many ways. As a result, Policies are judged not on the basis of ideology or a project’s inherent merits, but on who the policy proponents are and what benefits competing networks can reap such as within the Board itself and elsewhere.
In our blog post recently, we cited the role the county Executive Angela Alsobrooks is playing in advancing public corruption in the county through violations of law including campaign finance. There is more involving the county Executive touching on new schools and the Tantallon Community. Whether falling under the label of political cronyism, crony capitalism, political party cartels, oligarchy, plutocracy and even kleptocracy, widespread patterns of private and public corruption construct social systems that are rigged in the private interest as seen in this case. Citizens with strong ethical principles (and citizens who lack significant funds, connections, favours to dispense, “hard power” over others such as guns or private enforcers) lose representation, influence and power.
The rule of law is fundamental to maintaining the freedoms of individuals in a society, and for the protection of people’s rights. You cannot ask the county citizenry and their kids to obey the law when you are violating it in many ways willfully yourself”, one parent who did not want to be identified said.
When corruption pervades the justice system, people can no longer count on prosecutors and judges to do their jobs. The powerful may escape justice. And citizens, especially those with few resources or few powerful allies, may be unfairly accused of crimes, deprived of due process, and wrongly imprisoned.