The Prince George’s schools chief said he was quitting. So why is he still there?

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Donna St. George

It was more than two months ago when the embattled leader of Prince George’s County schools announced he would make a “transition” from the job he’d occupied for nearly five years.

He’s still there.

But officials said this week that confidential negotiations are underway on a contract settlement that could clear the way for CEO Kevin Maxwell’s exit.

Maxwell, who has been engulfed in scandals over questionable pay raises and inflated graduation rates, has three years remaining on a four-year contract. If the county school board opted to pay off his full salary and benefits, the cost would exceed $1 million.

How much Maxwell is seeking — and under what terms — remains unclear. But attorneys are meeting, and the school board will convene Thursday for a second session to discuss the matter, said Segun Eubanks, the board’s chairman.

The board will assess the state of negotiations and possibly take action at the meeting, he said in an interview this week.

Maxwell has not spoken with reporters since giving a May 1 interview as he announced his plans to leave. He turned down another request this week. A district spokesman said that Maxwell had nothing new to discuss and that the CEO declined to provide the name of his attorney.

The timing and cost of his departure have been flash points for weeks. NAACP and union leaders called for Maxwell to go by June 30 and argued against a major severance payment. Similar concerns were voiced by members of the school board’s minority bloc.

Inside and outside the school system, people are increasingly impatient about the lack of clarity, said Doris Reed, executive director of the union that represents principals and administrators.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said. “People want to move on. And he’s already spent so much of our money. Why are we going to give him more money?”

Maxwell’s contract, signed last year, allows for a parting of ways by several routes: mutual accord, retirement, resignation, death or permanent disability. If the breakup is mutual, the two sides may agree to a severance payment — but don’t have to, according to the document.

The contract also lists grounds for being fired, which are laid out in state law: misconduct in office, immorality, insubordination, incompetence or willful neglect of duty. In Maryland, the state superintendent of schools has the authority to remove county superintendents.

The situation is made more complex because Maxwell has not resigned or retired, leaving the nature of his departure an open question.

Maxwell was vague in his May 1 announcement, referring to his decision to “transition” from the school system and citing distractions “unlike anything I’ve experienced,” which he said had taken a toll on students, families and staff. He also noted that candidates running to be the next county executive wanted a change in the school district’s leadership.

Eubanks would not discuss the possibility of Maxwell’s firing this week. “The board knows fully all of its options and all of the law,” he said.

Maxwell is an ally of outgoing county executive Rushern L. Baker III, who appointed him to the post in 2013, reappointed him last year and recently lost a bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

Critics have said county officials delayed resolving Maxwell’s financial issues until after the June 26 primary election to avoid voter backlash. Officials said in May that negotiations would wait until after the school year ended, on June 20.

“I don’t want him to be paid out anything,” said David Murray, a school board member and Maxwell critic. “He’s made a lot of mistakes at the taxpayers’ expense already, and I don’t think the school system can afford to pay him a million dollars to not even serve out his contract.”

Murray added: “It’s hard to believe he is able to hold us up for a payout when he is the one who announced he was transitioning.”

Maxwell draws a base salary of $299,937, and his contract extends until June 30, 2021.

Many point to the string of scandals that unfolded under Maxwell’s watch.

In early 2016, the school system was rocked by a major sexual abuse case, involving a school volunteer and raising major questions about oversight.

Later that year, it lost a $6.4 million federal Head Start grant after the system was cited for humiliation and corporal punishment of children and failed to adequately correct deficiencies.

Last year, the school system reeled again, with a state-ordered investigation of graduation rates revealing widespread grade changes and ineligible graduates.

This year, several controversies erupted over pay raises that were notably large or unauthorized.

Many district employees say their salaries lag because of past years when budgets were tight and pay was frozen.

Maxwell said unauthorized raises to human resources employees should not have happened, but he defended increases to high-level aides while noting the sensitivity of the issue.

He said he had approved more than $100 million in teacher raises over the past five years after several years of salary freezes.

“I find it hard to believe that someone who cares about our system and our students would want to take so much money away from us for years he will not complete,” said Edward Burroughs III, a school board member and frequent Maxwell critic.

With no clarity about when Maxwell is leaving, the school system that serves more than 132,000 students has not tapped a replacement.

One oft-mentioned candidate as a temporary replacement is Monica Goldson, deputy superintendent for teaching and learning and the highest-ranking remaining leader after Maxwell.

The system’s other deputy superintendent, Monique Whittington Davis , recently left Prince George’s to take a lower-level post in neighboring Anne Arundel County schools.

The choice of an interim CEO will be made by Baker, who remains county executive until after the November general election, when a successor will be sworn in.

Scott Peterson, a spokesman for Baker, has said Baker will appoint an interim leader after the school board reaches an agreement with Maxwell. “We’re just waiting for the board and Dr. Maxwell to go through their processes first,” he said.

Via Washington Post

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Kevin M. Maxwell, chief executive officer of Prince George’s County Public Schools, visits with students in 2016. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

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