Dear Governor O’Malley, Senate President Miller, Speaker Busch, Senators and other elected officials el al:
We are writing to share our collective concern about the devastating impact corruption, nepotism and professional misconduct is having in two of our biggest school systems in Maryland i.e.; Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) and Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS). The so-called “doomsday” budget would be a perfect time to tighten the belt towards fiscal stability. We would like the funding restored. However, we are asking accountability measures be tied to the funding especially in these two troubled school Districts. Both systems perform poorly in state tests and are in the bottom of the ladder in the whole of Maryland. The main factor impacting PGCPS for example is corruption which has been present since time memorial. Baltimore City Public School recently spent $250,000 refurbishing an office. Surely that money could have been well spent helping students in the classroom. The amount of waste occurring in these two school district without proper oversight is off the hook. Below is a summary of our survey conducted recently in PG County through our blog and tweeter feed.
We have established that, Poor coordination between various agencies, lack of specialized judicial enforcement authorities and a lack of political will to adopt a coherent strategy against corruption are the main flaws in Prince George’s County anti-corruption efforts. The school system led by embattled superintendent William Hite Jr. is most affected. We wonder why the accountability measures are not in place to combat these concerns. The answer to this question is obvious. They are refusing to act in order to mismanage and continue the status quo led by a few greedy adults in the top management especially the Superintendent and the chief legal counsel.
Corruption is ever present in the daily life of Prince George’s County citizens, who are assailed everyday by the media reporting new scandals of corruption, recurring obstacles in pending investigations, crimes that go unpunished and new anti corruption policies that have no effect on these issues because management starting at the top of PGCPS is covering up in order to maintain the status quo. This should be a concern to everybody ie; Republicans, Democrats, independents etc.
The continuous public exposure of high profile corruption cases involving public figures starting with former county Executive Jack Johnson or private sector, combined with extensive media coverage of how successive governments have dealt with this phenomena, has undermined public confidence but at the same time given new hope that federal and state agencies are monitoring somehow.
The concerned citizens of PG County (CCOPGC) conducted a survey recently. The survey conducted a complete assessment of the country’s strengths and weaknesses in the fight against corruption. «The results show there’s a big gap between the legal infrastructure that’s in place and the way institutions conduct themselves in practice. The legal mechanisms are generally satisfactory, but the authorities’ effectiveness is hindered by the lack of a comprehensive and coherent prevention and enforcement strategy. The urgency of fighting corruption has made its way to the political discourse, but our leaders are not backing their words with action», a clear example is Mr. Rushen Baker’s promise of an Inspector General (IG) during his campaigns in 2009-2010. He made a promise for an IG but after assuming power, he changed completely says a concerned parent.
More than just a diagnosis, the CCOPGC survey makes a set of clear and practical recommendations to improve the effectiveness of the fight against corruption in Prince George’s County. These measures include the following;
- Adopting a stronger system to monitor politicians’ personal wealth and conflicts of interest including the superintendent of schools;
- Introducing measures to reduce the influence of political appointees in Public Administration including the school systems; (There is a lot of nepotism).
- Strengthening cooperation between prevention and investigation authorities;
- Improving the scope and quality of public information made available;
- Creating a specialized agency to combat corruption, with broad powers and independence led by an Inspector General (IG).
«It’s not enough to just point fingers. Civil society has a responsibility to present specific measures that get to the heart of the problems. What the CCOPGC System survey gives us is a road map for change, so we can make a positive impact in Prince George’s anti-corruption abilities. This survey is only the first step in a larger work of advocacy and public pressure that begins today», says Francis Rajan.
According to 2010’s Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) data, most Prince George’s County citizens (83%) not only feel that corruption levels have increased since 2001, but they also consider that the Government is inefficient in fighting corruption. The percentage of citizens with this latter view has increased from 64% in 2002 to 95% in 2012.
The negative perception regarding the County Government’s role in fighting corruption and the evolution of this phenomenon in Prince George’s County can also be felt in the international context. Transparency International’s (henceforth, TI) Corruption Perceptions Index (henceforth, the CPI), which measures the perceptions of businessmen and foreign experts, confirms this trend. Prince George’s county is among the 1st in the CPI global ranking, and in relation to the whole of Maryland, Prince George’s County stands as the 1st most corrupt county and the school system (PGCPS) is the most affected. As perceived by the aforementioned experts and businessmen, Very few businesses want to invest in the county. (Read the top most priorities in PGCPS here).
Clearly, the time has come for the Rushen Baker administration and the Board of Education (BOE) to make a candid assessment and holistically resolve the issues facing schools. A comprehensive approach encompasses diverse methods of measuring student progress, increased family involvement, more stakeholder collaboration, thoughtful resource allocation and a thorough plan to address socioeconomic disparities without diverse treatment/ retaliation on everyone concerned .
Each day, many students travel to schools from some of the most economically challenged communities in Maryland. We must acknowledge that learning and school readiness extend far beyond the walls of the classroom and into students’ homes and communities. With a large percentage of Maryland children living in poverty — and more than half of those children in PG county experiencing extreme poverty — it is imperative that school leaders and policymakers consider the role and challenges high rates of homelessness, unemployment and poor health care present in education reform.
The socioeconomic disparities in Maryland and especially Prince George’s County and Baltimore City have a profound and undeniable influence on student academic achievement. To make the matters worse, superintendent Hite, Chairperson of the Board and other senior managers are involved in questionable conduct. Time has come to talk about innovation, fiscal stability and find a permanent fix together to address the concerns in the school systems.
Once again remember that, this is not a Republicans, Democrats nor independents idea. As President Barack Obama said recently, “Those who oppose change, those who benefit from an unjust status quo, have always bet on the public’s cynicism or the public’s complacency. Throughout American history, though, they have lost that bet, and I believe they will this time as well. Don’t wait for the person next to you to be the first to speak up for what’s right. Because maybe, just maybe, they’re waiting on you”.
It’s time to address the issues heads on and let the chips fall where they may!
Morris Flecher Bayene – on behalf of Reform Sasscer Movement secretariat.