Rushern Baker speaks at a 2011 meeting in Maryland.

Rushern Baker speaks at a 2011 meeting in Maryland.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker’s bold plan to take over his county’s struggling school system is raising hopes — and red flags — in his county. But even as Baker demands accountability for the school system, lawmakers and council members say he’s going too far. Kojo gets the latest on Baker’s plans for his county’s schools and its leadership, as well as broader challenges facing Prince George’s.

Guests

  • Rushern Baker Executive, Prince George's County (Md.) (D)

Transcript

  • 12:06:43

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Early last month, Prince George's County executive Rushern Baker decided he was done shuffling deckchairs in his county storm-tossed school system. Facing the hiring of the seventh school superintendent in a little more than a decade, Mr. Baker took a page from leaders in New York and the District and made a bold move to take over the school system. Yesterday, the Maryland legislature granted him a watered-down version of what he wanted.

  • 12:07:24

    MR. KOJO NNAMDINow, Rushern Baker has more power over the school system than in most Maryland jurisdictions, but he does not have control of the system's purse strings. So what does this last-minute shuffle mean for parents who are demanding more accountability at the top, how it will impact Prince George's next superintendent and more importantly its classrooms. Joining us in studio to discuss this and all other things Prince George's County is Rushern Baker, Prince George's County executive in Maryland. Rushern Baker, good to see you.

  • 12:07:59

    MR. RUSHERN BAKERKojo, good to see you. Good to be here.

  • 12:08:01

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to join the conversation. You can send email to kojo@wamu.org. Is greater executive power over Prince George's schools a good idea? Why or why not? 800-433-8850. You can also send us a tweet, @kojoshow. You wanted control of the school budget and selecting the superintendent.

  • 12:08:24

    NNAMDIUnder the bill passed by the Prince George's Senate delegation -- and you can best explain this process because you were once chairman of the Prince George's delegation to the General Assembly -- you'll get to select the new superintendent and the leaders of a retooled board of education. Is that enough really for you to steer change?

  • 12:08:48

    BAKERWell, I think it's enough for citizens to hold me accountable for improving education in Prince George's County, which is something that I wanted from the very beginning. I think when people vote for the chief executive officer, they think that they're voting for somebody who has the responsibility for improving public safety, health care, economic development and education. In the first three, they're absolutely correct.

  • 12:09:14

    BAKERIf crime goes up in Prince George's County, I'm the person to hold responsible. If we don't improve our education, our health care system, I'm the person. But when it comes to the most important part of Prince George's County, I'm not. The Council and I proposed a budget to the school board. We work with them, and we give them $1.7 billion, and really that's it. They can spend the money, whatever they want, however they want to do it.

  • 12:09:41

    BAKERAnd there's really no accountability at the executive level. I think there needs to be greater accountability and greater coordination so that we're making sure that every dollar goes right into the classroom. So while this bill does not give me everything that I asked for in Annapolis, it gives me enough to -- for people to hold me accountable for us to pick the leadership of the school system and the school board and coordinate those efforts so that we make sure that Prince George's County's education system improves with a sense of urgency.

  • 12:10:11

    NNAMDIA lot of questions about process come to mind here for me. As I mentioned, as a former chair of the Prince George's delegation to the General Assembly, you know how the politics work. These are your former peeps, so to speak, that you submitted this to. Did you expect to get everything you wanted, or did you expect that there would likely be some form of compromise? On the one hand, these are your former peeps. They should give you everything you asked for. On the other hand, that's not necessarily the way the process works.

  • 12:10:37

    BAKERYeah, it would be nice if they give me what I ask for.

  • 12:10:40

    BAKERYou know, you think about it as a -- in the executive branch, you spend a lot of time analyzing and looking at best practices, and you come up with what you think is the best situation for Prince George's County. And you submit it, and you hope people will see that. But they're always going to make changes, and we knew that was the case.

  • 12:10:58

    BAKERWe knew this would be historic for any place outside of Baltimore City. And so we knew they were going to be back and forth. And I think they did a good job at the compromise, and it's a good first step. And like I said, the end analysis is that we can better coordinate county resources with our education system to make sure we're moving education in Prince George's County.

  • 12:11:23

    NNAMDIWell, they still have to vote on it in the full Senate, and it still therefore has to go through the House.

  • 12:11:28

    BAKERRight.

  • 12:11:28

    NNAMDIIs that likely to go forward as expected? Are you expecting any other changes?

  • 12:11:32

    BAKERNo, I think the -- one of the things that both the House and the Senate did this year in the Prince George's House delegation, led by Delegate Jolene Ivey, and the Senate delegation, led by Sen. Doug Peters, was they started working on the amendments. One of the things that has been confusing in the conversation is that I submitted a new bill. I actually did not.

  • 12:11:53

    BAKERI submitted amendments to a bill that was already in the General Assembly around governance structure and a task force for education. But they started working on the amendments at the same time. The Senate has now passed them out. I suspect that the House will concur with those amendments on the Senate side because they both have been discussing them, and then that's the bill that will eventually pass out.

  • 12:12:18

    NNAMDIWill the superintendent report directly to you as you wanted?

  • 12:12:21

    BAKERNo. The superintendent will still report to the school board with -- there are a couple of caveats. One, I will pick the superintendent from three individuals that are sent to me from a task force. They'll be put together to do the search. That individual once I selected will be sent over to the school board. They will negotiate the same process there have been with the chair of the school board and the vice chair of the school board. And then that person has to be confirmed by -- ultimately by the state superintendent. So that process will remain the same.

  • 12:13:00

    BAKERThe difference in where it gives me greater accountability is the selection of the leadership at the school board. So the chair and the vice chair of the school board will be selections that I will make. I will have three selections to the school board. The Council will have one selection. And the elected school board members will remain in place. So it gives me, you know, a role in the leadership of our school system, which quite honestly, you know, we can effect change that way than maybe, you know, this is the government we think it is.

  • 12:13:36

    NNAMDIWell, there's a lot of concern or some concern that this larger school board will create yet more tensions because some members may be resentful of your handpicked chairperson and vice chairperson of the board. How do you respond to that?

  • 12:13:50

    BAKERNo, I think all along -- I mean, you know, the school board and the Council and myself and legislators, I mean, we all have one goal in mind: how do we make sure that Prince George's County, which is a fairly wealthy county -- it's the wealthiest African-American county in this nation, highly educated -- has a school system that is good as the people who live in Prince George's County?

  • 12:14:12

    BAKERAnd so with that in mind, I expect the men and women on the school board to be the professionals that they are, to see that the new people coming on will add to the academic and equality of the school board. I certainly expect the rest of my Cabinet to work in partnership, and I know the Council feels the same way.

  • 12:14:37

    NNAMDIThere's already, however, a process in place for selecting the next superintendent. Before this measure in the General Assembly, the school board had narrowed the superintendent search down to three candidates, one of whom dropped out this week. What happens with that search now? Does it start all over again?

  • 12:14:54

    BAKERThe search starts all over. And one of the things that's been interesting about this process is the school board itself has agreed already that the search -- the process of the search should be opened back up. Certainly, the Council agrees with that, and I do, too. So that agreement has already been reached. So we'll open the process back up and look for some candidates. We want to make sure we get the best person for Prince George's County and someone who's going to stay here for a while.

  • 12:15:21

    NNAMDIWe're talking with Rushern Baker. He is the county executive for Prince George's County in Maryland. Inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Is greater executive power over Prince George's schools a good idea? Tell us why you think so or why you think it is not a good idea. You can also send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or join the conversation at our website, kojoshow.org.

  • 12:15:44

    NNAMDIHow does changing the organizational and accountability structure of your school system directly impact the classroom? There's a quote in today's edition of The Washington Post from the school board chairman, Virginia Jacobs, who says we're talking about moving adults around, but what are we going to do for the children? I hadn't heard about that yet.

  • 12:16:06

    BAKERNo, I mean, the reason that you find cities and urban areas going to an executive-style education and holding it responsible is just -- think about it. In Prince George's County, every agency and department is under the county executive's control. It's on the executive management with the exception of the school system. The school system acts almost like an island, like improving education is solely within the four walls of the school system itself.

  • 12:16:36

    BAKERIt isn't. You can -- we have -- I visit schools once a week. We have some great principals out there and great teachers who are using their own personal resources to do things that really the county should be involved in. And that is we had one teacher -- and I use this example a lot -- one principal who actually used her resources at her school to teach her parents who speak English as a second language, to teach them English.

  • 12:17:03

    BAKERAnd the reason she did it was for two reasons. She said, one, I want them greater involved in their child's education in the school systems, but they need to learn English to do that. The other is a lot of my children and are -- be -- are absent from school for many days because they're used as the translators for the parents.

  • 12:17:22

    BAKERWell, we have services right now within the county government, in our social services, family services and health department, that can do exactly what she's using resources that could go to have hire another reading specialist and another math specialist. Rather than using her school resources, we could actually step in, but there's no coordinated activity. And so those are the things that you can do under the executive control, and we've seen it work in other areas like public safety.

  • 12:17:53

    NNAMDIOn to the telephones. We'll start with Darlene in Bowie, Md. Darlene, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:18:00

    DARLENEYes. I'd just like to say that I am a supporter of the county executive. He's made some very good points, particularly with the county being as affluent as it is and the school system's not representing that. We've had our kids in both public school. We tried that in a science and tech program, and it -- a TAG program, and it was laughable. So we put them back in private school. So I think we should give him a chance.

  • 12:18:24

    DARLENEI -- been so on accountability, and he's accepting that responsibility. And, right now, things aren't working when you have people who are in place who I think they have more of a concern for themselves than our kids. And so I think he should be given full support and that he's embracing the full leadership role that we voted him in to do.

  • 12:18:46

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Darlene. Is there anything you can say that would make Darlene feel even more confident about you?

  • 12:18:53

    BAKERWell, I think...

  • 12:18:55

    BAKERWell, first of all, I want to thank you for doing that. She's exactly the type of parents we want to come back to our school system. All three of our children went through Prince George's County's public school system, and the youngest one just graduated last year. So I know the system well. Our youngest one was in the TAG program, another one in comprehensive. So we saw the best and worst of Prince George's County school system.

  • 12:19:19

    BAKERThis can be a great school system, and they do some great things. They don't do it everywhere. And what we have to do is have, you know, one of the frustrating things for me as a parent was if I didn't like my child's education, there were times I didn't, I didn't know who to blame. Do I blame the superintendent? Do I hold the school board responsible? Do I hold myself at the time I was a delegate responsible?

  • 12:19:41

    BAKERDo I hold the county executive? Quite honestly, everybody had a portion, but nobody had the ultimate responsibility. This says it very clearly that if Darlene has a problem, she can call the county executive and you're the person who said you would improve education. Either you did it, or you didn't.

  • 12:19:57

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Darlene. We had two people who called in on the show last week, identified themselves as Prince George's teachers to talk about the proposed takeover of the system. One individual, Yvonne, who had taught in the system for 20 years, she said, was opposed to the takeover and had this to say about the current state of the school system.

  • 12:20:18

    YVONNEWe have been steadily closing the gap between different groups of students. And we have been progressing forward. As a matter of fact, you know that for the last five years, Maryland has been chosen the best school system in the country. And the real reason why that has happened is because of Prince George's County because we have made progress. And we have -- moved the state forward.

  • 12:20:41

    YVONNEThe county executive doesn't have any ideas about educational policy, OK? He wants to have control of the money. I don't know whether you know about the make-up. If you compare our county to the make-up of other counties -- similar counties, we are doing -- we are actually moving the needle forward on academic achievement. And those other counties are looking to us for advice.

  • 12:21:10

    NNAMDIThe -- Yvonne says, it ain't broke. Don't fix it.

  • 12:21:14

    BAKERWell, I don't think most parents and most people would agree with that. We are making progress in Prince George's County. But let me answer one thing 'cause I've heard this before. Everybody says, well, the county executive just wants the budget. I already have the budget. You know, I have it right now. In fact, the voters of Prince George's County -- it's not a takeover. They gave it to me.

  • 12:21:34

    BAKERThey voted for me and gave me four years and said, you have the complete budget of Prince George's County. Today, I could decide, you know, when I worked with the council, I could fund Prince George's County school system at the amount that the law requires I do, which is what a lot of jurisdictions around the state do. We don't. For the two and a half years I've been county executive, myself and the council, we've overfunded the school system.

  • 12:21:58

    BAKERSo this year in a tight budget year, we're making cuts everywhere else. We're going to fund $11 million over the requirement. So we already have the budget. What I don't have is accountability. No one should, you know, I can give them the $1.7 billion, and I've done my job to improve education. And the fact that we're not improving at the rate that we should in Prince George's County is not my fault.

  • 12:22:25

    BAKERNow, let me talk briefly about the other part of the question, which was we're making progress. Yes, we are, but in a fair -- if you look at any jurisdiction in any demographics and you take Prince George's County as a whole, you can't simply just take the pockets of poverty in Prince George's County. You got to take the county as a whole. This is a fairly wealthy county, a highly educated county, and there's no way that you should be in the bottom of the school system in state of Maryland.

  • 12:22:55

    BAKERAt best, you should be somewhere in the middle. At best, you should not accept the fact that you're in the bottom, and that's where you need to be. My children that we put through this education system in the county, we believed in it, we fought for it, and we're going to continue. But I believe that we can do a lot better and a lot quicker.

  • 12:23:14

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation with Rushern Baker. He is the county executive in Prince George's County, Md. You can still call us at 800-433-8850 with your comments or questions. You can also send email to kojo@wamu.org. What do you think should be the top educational priorities for Prince George's County? You can also send us a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:25:17

    NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Rushern Baker, Prince George's County executive, and we're talking to him about his desire to have more influence, more control on the public school system in Prince George's County. Inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. There are so many issues to tackle in the school system there, including improving student performance and student transportation, which is always at the top of parents' list. What are your priorities under this new set up?

  • 12:25:46

    BAKERWell, the priority is certainly, you know, student performance, and how do we direct the resources to get directly into the classroom so that we can have greater achievement by our students. And one of the ways to do that is to look at the operational structure of the school system. You know, we talk about transportation. All of my children rode the bus. My youngest, for the entire 12 years -- she was in the Prince George's County school system -- was on a bus.

  • 12:26:13

    BAKERSome days it worked well, and some days it didn't. One of the frustrating things to me as a parent was calling the bus lot, trying to figure out where the bus was and never being able to get through it. And this was when I was a member of the House of Delegates. I couldn't figure it out, but we were on the biggest bus program in our school system.

  • 12:26:33

    BAKERAt the same time, the county runs its own bus program. There's got to be some synergy there that we can actually see some cost savings that we can then take those resources and direct them into our classrooms which have the greatest need. And that's one of the areas that I want to make sure that we're spending the type of resources that retain great principals and great teachers in Prince George's County.

  • 12:26:57

    BAKERThat's paramount. We need -- I've advocated it for the two and a half years I've been county executive for teacher raises. Even at a time when we were cutting across the board is because we need to be competitive with this region of attracting and retaining great teachers who then become great principals.

  • 12:27:17

    NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here now is Lance in Arlington, Va. Lance, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:27:25

    LANCEThank you, Kojo. Lance here. Mr. Baker, I commend you and applaud your efforts to revamp the school system at Prince George's County. Some three years ago, I, along with some others, helped to host the fundraiser for you when you were running at the City Club in Washington. And I asked you a question at that time, what were you going to do, assuming you were elected, as country executive of Price George's County? And you said you were going to focus on the school system.

  • 12:27:57

    LANCEThis school -- your school system ought to be a paradigm, a model for the better school system than ex-urban and urban -- suburban areas of the country, and it is no reason why you can't. And your proximity to Washington, D.C., and the bureaucracy here, there are certain advantages that you have, and I hope you move forward with this and that the board goes forward in accepting and approving of your solution. Now...

  • 12:28:31

    NNAMDIOK.

  • 12:28:31

    LANCE...one of the things I would suggest, if you don't mind, and that is a comprehensive approach. There has to be private -- the private sector. There has to be corporate America. The parents, the colleges and universities, all -- and the sciences, they should all pitch in and make a comprehensive approach and do a comprehensive...

  • 12:28:56

    NNAMDIIs that something that you are considering, Rushern Baker?

  • 12:28:58

    BAKERExactly. In fact, Lance, thank you for helping me get this job, and thank you for your comments. That's exactly what our bill did in Annapolis. One of the reasons that we added the additional school board members was not simply just to add more bodies there, was to bringing expertise from our foundations and educational expertise, but also from the business world and greater engagement from the business community.

  • 12:29:23

    BAKERWe also had a provision in the bill that said our major universities in Prince George's County, our community college, Bowie State University and University of Maryland, would be ex officio members of the school board to bring their expertise. Lance is exactly right. One of the reasons I wanted the superintendent to be a cabinet low position was to also bring in the entire government.

  • 12:29:47

    BAKERSo that that superintendent can reach into our health department, reach into our public works department, reach into, you know, housing department to deal with some of the critical issues outside of those four walls of the schools that have an impact on what goes on inside those classrooms. You cannot change the school system without bringing the whole dynamic of the government to do it.

  • 12:30:10

    NNAMDILance, thank you very much for your call. We move on to Judd in Bethesda, Md. Judd, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:30:16

    JUDDYeah, hi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. I'm very interested in this, and I admire Mr. Baker for willing to take on all this responsibility. But he hasn't said much about the role of families in supporting students. We see a lot of effort to improve the teaching and so forth. But in the country, as a whole, with two parents working, whether they're educated parents or non-educated parents, they don't seem to be as involved as they once were.

  • 12:30:53

    JUDDAnd of course, if the parents are not educated, you made a very good remark at the beginning about helping a Hispanic family learn English so they could participate in their kids' education. What's your program in that regard?

  • 12:31:06

    NNAMDIWell, Judd, before the county executive response, allow me to add to it because we got a call last week from another Price George's County teacher who identified himself as Donald about the school improvement issue from another angle. And he also wanted to focus on parents. Let's take a listen to his idea about how to make the county schools more accountable.

  • 12:31:28

    DONALDThe thing that I have noticed especially during this current school year is the parents and the caregivers of the children in schools, in many cases, are the missing part of the equation here. And I think there needs to be some sort of legislation or whatever would be appropriate to make parents and guardians the, you know, have accountability...

  • 12:32:05

    NNAMDIMore accountable -- more accountability on the part of parents. That also seems to be what Judd is suggesting.

  • 12:32:12

    BAKERYeah. I mean, what we call it is parent engagement. One of the things that I have noticed when our children were in Prince George's County school system is at the, you know, at the middle school or at the elementary school, we had great parent involvement in the PTA. As you get to the high school, you had less, I mean, for many reasons. My wife and I were both working at the time. It was hard to get to every meeting and also deal with the other two children who are in elementary school and middle school.

  • 12:32:40

    BAKERBut we also saw, 'cause our children went to Suitland High School, many of the challenges that parents had, whether they were from single family households or whether they were working two jobs or whatever it was. So part of the legislation that we have is, one, to have a parent are actually on the school board itself. Currently, the school board does not have -- none of the members have children currently going to Prince George's County schools.

  • 12:33:06

    BAKERIt's kind of hard to understand the frustration of, you know, the bus stop issues which sounds petty if you don't have to actually wait out there in the morning to wonder whether the bus will pick your child up or not or the fact that, you know, you can't get a transcript if your child's applying for college because there is some glitch.

  • 12:33:24

    BAKERSo you want to have a parent there. The other is a greater role for the county-wide PTA. Many of the frustrations I heard as just a parent, not as an elected official, in the meetings was it doesn't matter what we say. They're going to do what they want to do anyway down in Upper Marlboro, so we get greater parental engagement.

  • 12:33:44

    BAKERAnd the other final thing is using the resources of the county to do what we're doing right now with our transforming neighborhood's initiative, and that is to reach out to the community and engage parents and the community as a whole in the education process and using whatever resources we have at the county level that they -- whether it's parents need better English, you know, need to learn English, whether parents are looking for a job, whether parents are looking for a house.

  • 12:34:12

    BAKERWhether -- whatever way we can use the government resources to do that and then tie the business section in, that's what we're going to do with parental engagement.

  • 12:34:21

    NNAMDIJudd, thank you very much for your call. We move on to Kenneth in Fort Washington, Md. Kenneth, your turn.

  • 12:34:27

    KENNETHYes. Thank you, Kojo. There's an undeserved population of the school system. What about the special needs children? My daughter's been in PG County for 18 years, and I've had to come out of my pocket to provide service such as speech, physical therapy and a whole other range of things that the school cannot provide.

  • 12:34:49

    BAKERYeah. That is the biggest -- one of the biggest issues we face in Prince George's County is dealing with our special needs population. In some schools, they do it well, but it's individualized, and you can't do that. One of the reasons that we want to have this integrated government approach to education is just for that very reason. The school system itself doesn't have the resources to deal with all of the issues around especial needs.

  • 12:35:16

    BAKERWell, you have a whole government apparatus that could step in and help. We have a health department, social services, family services, things that we could bring to the table that right now are divorced from the school itself as if they don't have an impact. But certainly, it's an area that if we don't address in a serious way in Prince George's County, we're going to start finding ourselves in a lot of trouble.

  • 12:35:41

    NNAMDIKenneth, thank you very much for your call. Diana in Aspen Hill, Md., your turn.

  • 12:35:48

    DIANAThank you so much for this opportunity. I have a question for Rushern Baker. I volunteer at High Point High School in Prince George's County. I'm 77, and I was a media specialist in Montgomery County. When I go to High Point High School, there's green mold growing down the walls. There are buckets to catch the water. And my question is, as a parent, if your children were going to this school in Prince George's County, what steps would you take?

  • 12:36:35

    BAKEROh, and you know what? First of all, thank you for volunteering in Prince George's County, and thank you for doing all that you're doing. We need you. We love you, and we're glad you're there. The second thing is it's unacceptable. When I say a sense of urgency, that's just it. When people tell me, well, we can wait the next year, let's study this, I wouldn't do that for my child, and I don't any other child to go through that.

  • 12:36:57

    BAKERYou know, that's good example of an area where we need to make quick action, but yet once, you know, once we give the money to the school system, it's their determination what, you know, what happens in what order. We've looked -- I've been to High Point, I've seen it. We voiced our concern, but it really -- this will put it squarely in my lap. So the next time, you know, hopefully in June when you call, if that's an issue, you know exactly you got the person to blame for it. If it's still that way, then the county -- it's the county executive's fault.

  • 12:37:34

    NNAMDIDiana, thank you very much for your call. Liz in Silver Spring, Md., wants to talk about this. Liz, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:37:41

    LIZHi. Thank you for taking my call. I am a current Prince George's County teacher. I've also taught in Baltimore County, in Howard County. I was a team leader in Montgomery County, and I've tried in charter school in D.C.

  • 12:37:53

    NNAMDIWell, we should put another question to you. Is there any jurisdiction in the area in which you have not taught? But go ahead, please. Go ahead.

  • 12:38:00

    LIZNo. I've been teaching since '97. But at any rate...

  • 12:38:03

    NNAMDIOK.

  • 12:38:03

    LIZ...my question is without trying to over exaggerate our role, we would love to have input into any change whoever it, and you know, whoever -- whatever the change vehicle is or whatever the status quo vehicle teachers really need to be a part. I'm also a parent in Montgomery County, and I was in Paint Branch High School today, which my daughter shared that she knows High Point students try to use fake addresses to go to Paint Branch.

  • 12:38:30

    LIZAnd Paint Branch looks like, you know, a brand-new, unbelievable building. But that aside, back to the teacher role, what role do you think teachers will play in the overall comprehensive plan of improving everything for our children regardless of who is in charge?

  • 12:38:45

    NNAMDIRushern.

  • 12:38:45

    BAKERYou know, it really is the teachers that are going to make the different. I mean, I know that first hand. I spent not only, you know, I had the pleasure of having my children go through the school system and have teachers have a great impact on them but also sevens years with the nonprofit looking at best practices.

  • 12:39:03

    BAKEROne of the things that we're going to do in selecting the superintendent and bringing in a -- this integrated government approach is really bring teachers, principals and parents involved in it. I mean, I, you know, purposely said that I want to spend a week -- one day a week in classrooms in Prince George's County, which sounded crazy to my staff which said, you have nothing to do with schools other than to fund them.

  • 12:39:28

    BAKERThat's because it's so important, and I want to hear firsthand and see what's going on inside the classroom from teachers that have an impact on what we do. We will do the something with this approach and that is make sure that we're talking. I will continue my visiting the classrooms, taking input from teachers. But also, you know, I had the pleasure of having, you know, several young teachers come down to Annapolis and actually testify against the bill.

  • 12:39:58

    BAKERBut they were so good and so engaged that I said to them, I want to sit down with you and figure out how we lead the school system forward because their comments were right. Their comments were we make the difference in people's lives. We're the ones that have the impact, and that's right. So how do we get you the tools you need to continue to do that and to do it at a greater job? And that's what we're going to do.

  • 12:40:22

    NNAMDILiz, thank you very much for your call. We're taking a short break. If you've called, the number -- or if you've called, stay on the line. We'll try to get to your calls. If you haven't, the number is 800-433-8850. We're going to move on to some other issues, but we still may get to those of you who want to talk about Prince George's County public schools. You can also send email to kojo@wamu.org, or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:42:21

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation with Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker. Yesterday, the Maryland House of Delegates passed what would be among the nation's most restrictive gun control or gun regulation measures, voting to require fingerprints for gun buyers, new limits on firearm purchases by the mentally ill and bans on assault weapons and magazines that hold more than 10 bullets. I'd like to get your reaction to this measure, especially as we consider that it's been a particularly violent year in the county schools.

  • 12:42:52

    BAKERWell, you know, certainly we're very -- I was very supportive of the measure that the governor put forth, and I was glad that he, you know, really vigorously pursued this. In Prince George's County, we've been able to reduce crime in Prince George's County by 17 percent this year. We, last year, had 33 percent reduction in homicides in the county. But one homicide is one too many. Too many of our -- you mentioned the, you know, the homicides this year in our -- with our young people who attend our schools.

  • 12:43:21

    NNAMDIRight.

  • 12:43:22

    BAKERSix in six months young people killed by guns that are in the hands of these young people. Clearly, we want to do everything we can to get these guns off the street, get them out of their hands. We've done everything at the local level we can think of like our buyback program. Pastor Maclin and the Sanctuary did a buyback program on East -- on Good Friday, where hundreds of people came out.

  • 12:43:50

    BAKERSo, clearly, this is a great step in the right direction, and it also protects people's Second Amendment rights. So I applaud the governor, and I'm glad he did it. And our police chief also, Chief Magaw, supported this measure.

  • 12:44:03

    NNAMDISo many parents and leaders are frustrated by the level of juvenile violence in our region as a whole, and time and time again, they point to a lack of parenting on the home front as the culprit. We talked recently with Angela Alsobrooks, the Prince George's County state's attorney. She's going to be having on May 4 what she calls a brotherhood summit happening at Bowie State University to ask parents to bring their sons to address some of these issues. What are your ideas about how to tackle good parenting and values at home in Prince George's County?

  • 12:44:34

    BAKERWell, first, let me just say this. I mean, we're blessed in the county to have a great state's attorney in Angela Alsobrooks. I went to -- my wife and I went to the conference she had last year for young women. And I thought it was very powerful and very engaging, and I expect the same thing this year. Certainly, there has to be a comprehensive approach. You need gun reform. You also need what we do in our Transforming Neighborhoods, and that is to bring the whole government there, parental involvement, but also health.

  • 12:45:03

    BAKERA lot of focus that I've given in this administration has been around education, public safety and health, because a lot of the issues have to do with counseling, psychiatrists, all the things that go to health-related. And so it's a comprehensive approach. It's not just one. It's not just parental involvement. It's not just health. It's also putting laws into place like this one that the governor was able to pass in Maryland.

  • 12:45:32

    NNAMDIYou mentioned your Transforming Neighborhood Initiative. It zeroed in on improving six neighborhoods in Prince George's County. This is the approach of the first anniversary of that effort. How is it going?

  • 12:45:45

    BAKERIt's going very well. We're very pleased at the progress we're making. It is the concept of bringing the entire government down to the street level in areas that are the highest needs. That also includes our school system, so the new school reform will go right hand in hand. But many of the children that we're talking about, that State's Attorney Alsobrooks talk about, come from those neighborhoods, in those areas in Prince George's County, and we're putting all these programs and action in those areas to help them so that we don't see youth violence.

  • 12:46:21

    NNAMDIWell, when it was launched, the Neighborhood Initiative did not get any extra money or resources. Has that changed?

  • 12:46:27

    BAKERNo. Well, this year, we're actually going to make a investment in the Neighborhood Initiative. What we did in the very beginning was to redirect resources, to look at programs that were working in Prince George's County and programs that weren't. The programs weren't working, we didn't fund them. The programs were working, those were the ones we targeted. We also asked every department, if you were duplicating something in one department that we were doing, that we combine that so we streamline the way we provide resources. And we've seen that it works.

  • 12:47:04

    NNAMDIAbout a year-and-a-half ago, you were on the show and Prince George's County had just lost its bid to land the U.S. Health and Human Services facility. You were working on an incentive fund to attract more businesses to the county. Fast-forward to 2013 and Prince George's County is now a lead contender for the new FBI headquarters. You've pinpointed the area around the Greenbelt Metro Station as the best site. Why?

  • 12:47:30

    BAKERWell, we think that gives us the greatest opportunity to bring the FBI here to Prince George's County. It fits all the criteria that the GSA has said they want and the information that we've gotten from the FBI. It's near a Metro. It has development that can spur around it, so it's not just a single project. And I think, you know, given the number of federal workers who live in Prince George's County, it also helps with the environment.

  • 12:47:56

    BAKERSo they don't have to travel as far to get to work. So we're excited about it. I said we were going to make Prince George's County competitive, and I think we're doing that. Our Economic Development Incentive Fund, which is the $50 million incentive fund, has helped us look at areas and get them ready and make them competitive to attract something like the FBI here.

  • 12:48:20

    NNAMDIWhat are you doing to sweeten the pot? I just -- you just mentioned some of the things you're doing to sweeten the incentive pot for the Feds.

  • 12:48:27

    BAKERWe're -- we also have our Incentive Fund. But we also -- this is the first time that I can remember that the state of Maryland has joined with a local jurisdiction to go after a federal enclave. So we've got the governor's office, the lieutenant governor's office signed on a letter from my good friend, County Executive Ike Leggett. So this really is Maryland going after the FBI to bring them to Prince George's County.

  • 12:48:55

    BAKERAnd part of what we're going to do is make sure that -- the governor just passed out a bill dealing with transportation funding that will help us do the infrastructure needs around the area to make it more attractive for the federal government. So we think we have a great proposal and that it should come here. No offense to Virginia.

  • 12:49:15

    NNAMDII was about to say that your biggest competition or what seems to be your biggest competition -- because Vincent Gray might be listening to you -- what seems to be your biggest competition is Fairfax County. And Tom Jackman has been, well, talking smack about Prince George's County essentially. Is there anything you have to say about why the FBI should not relocate the Fairfax County?

  • 12:49:35

    BAKERWell, you know, I think we make a great case why they should come here and why it makes more sense to have...

  • 12:49:41

    NNAMDIHe's not going to talk about smack about Fairfax County.

  • 12:49:44

    BAKERThere is no need to. You got a great product like Prince George's County.

  • 12:49:47

    NNAMDIOK. Back to the telephones now. Here we go to Tonya in Fort Washington, Md. Tanya, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:49:58

    TONYAHi. Thank you very much. Yes, my name is Tonya. I am resident of Prince George's County. Have a son in the school and wanted to just say, County Executive Baker, thank you for your efforts in this education reform. We absolutely need it in order to help our -- put us in a better position for economic development as you have indicated. I wanted to just share a thought on the parent engagement. As you're aware, I'm also a PTSA president in South County, and we have a very active PTSA organization.

  • 12:50:34

    TONYAWe have over 420 members. We have a $30,000 budget, which we are just about to reach that. And as a group of -- a community with a group of active parents, I think that the school system's culture is not one that supports active parents. So in your comprehensive plan, what would you propose to do in order to better train administrators and also the board on engaging with active, demanding parents?

  • 12:51:10

    BAKERWell, first of all, I want to thank Tonya for showing up to all of our budget hearings and reminding us that we need to do and really holding us accountable for education at a time when many of us we're saying, well, we fund the school system, and we've done our job. I want to thank you for your advocacy work. You see it worked, so we put some amendments down there.

  • 12:51:33

    BAKERBut you're absolutely right about parental engagement in some schools and some of the system that does not appreciate that. And what we have to do is make sure across the board -- that's why we talk about not only parental engagement but looking at making sure that both the central offices and the local schools know how and accept parental engagement because that's what's going to turn schools around.

  • 12:51:59

    BAKERWe, you know, when my children we're in the school system, we had one school that really love for parents to come there. And then when our daughters went to another school, I decided to show up. My wife and I had this thing where we would show up unannounced at our schools -- at our children school to let them know that mommy and daddy were always engaged in their education. We're watching them to make sure that, you know, that they were doing what they were supposed to be doing.

  • 12:52:23

    BAKERAnd we showed up one time and then -- and the principal simply said, we don't allow parents to walk around and look at their children during the day. I said, well, that's the craziest thing I'd ever heard. But in -- he wasn't trying to be mean, but it's -- they weren't used to parental engagement and engaged parent. We can't be afraid of that. That's what's going to move the system forward because if we don't embrace it, those engaged parents go elsewhere, and usually it's the private schools.

  • 12:52:50

    NNAMDITonya, thank you very much for your call. There's a question of timing, two emails. One we got from Alexander in Greenbelt, "I see nothing in this proposal to justify what has been described as a power graph. Postponing the presentation of this idea to near the end of the session clearly appears designed to avoid wider discussion of the merits.

  • 12:53:08

    NNAMDI"Is this not a subversion of democracy?" And Andy writes, "Why did you not pitch your proposal sooner? The impulsive tardy nature of your pitch has plunged the county into divisive debate without allowing for proper measured review. Why the time?"

  • 12:53:23

    BAKERWell, let's deal with two issues. One, the timing. Well, let's deal with the debate. Anybody who knows me knows I love robust debate and like engagement. This issue about the governance structure in Prince George's County didn't start three weeks ago or four weeks ago when we added an amendment to the bill. It actually began when Dr. Hyde announced that he was leaving.

  • 12:53:44

    BAKERSo really, for the last seven months, Prince George's County has been in this ongoing discussion about whether, in fact, the structure around the superintendent is working for us and the county in keeping superintendents here -- having had seven superintendents in 10 years -- and whether, in fact, the structure that we have is giving our children the best opportunity. So that discussion has been ongoing.

  • 12:54:09

    BAKERWhat I did in -- once I reached the point and we looked at it, we were looking at best practices, we were listening -- Tonya is a good example -- when we had our budget hearings and people brought up their problems in the school systems and said something has to be done. What we did was look at the bill that was currently in Annapolis and offer an amendment.

  • 12:54:30

    BAKERSo really what people talked about it as a new bill, it's not. It was the one that was richly debated in Annapolis, we offered an amendment. We also offered in time to have an -- to have a debate on it. This amendment quite honestly had four public hearings before the session, which is unusual. So two -- one back here and in Prince George's County and several in Annapolis.

  • 12:54:54

    BAKERAnd so it's been widely discussed. Finally, the reason that I did it was we're going to pick a new superintendent. That superintendent has to be on the job July 1. Whatever the structure is we're going to have, that person needs to be allowed to operate under a four-year contract. So it would be unfair to that person to change the structure in the middle of their contract.

  • 12:55:16

    NNAMDIMaryland lawmakers last month approved the measure to abolish the death penalty in Maryland. This was a real victory for you personally, why?

  • 12:55:23

    BAKERYes. Well, my wife, who, you know, is suffering from early onset of dementia, dedicated her entire adult life to abolishing the death penalty. And one of the things that she -- one of the last acts that she, you know, really participated was working with case to abolish the death penalty, and she worked very hard. And so for the first time in 20 years, she was not able to go to Annapolis and testify for this measure.

  • 12:56:02

    BAKERSo the greatest pleasure I had was actually watching on a Friday night the vote in the Senate to abolish the death penalty. And while she didn't really understand it, she knew and I knew that it was happening. And so to me personally, this is just, you know, one of the greatest accomplishments of -- a great gift that I can give to her and know that we -- that I did everything that I could, and we did everything we could.

  • 12:56:31

    NNAMDIThe county executive's wife, Christa Beverly, is a former civil rights attorney with a long history of fighting against the death penalty, and she represented appeals for people on death row. What is -- how is she doing now?

  • 12:56:44

    BAKERShe is doing very well considering the circumstances. And, you know, we are truly blessed, and we got great friends and great support. She is a big fan of yours as you know.

  • 12:56:55

    NNAMDIYes. She's always been a good, great listener.

  • 12:56:58

    BAKERSo we're blessed. We're blessed.

  • 12:57:00

    NNAMDIThe Corcoran Gallery of Art's board of trustees voted 13-0 yesterday afternoon to sign up preliminary agreement to explore long-term partnership with the University of Maryland. What does this agreement mean for Prince George's County's Gateway Arts Center along Route 1?

  • 12:57:14

    BAKERAnd, well, first of all, in full...

  • 12:57:15

    NNAMDIWe only got about 30 seconds.

  • 12:57:17

    BAKERFull disclosure: My son actually teaches at both University of Maryland and Corcoran art program. But for us in the county, this is a great opportunity for us to get a well-established museum in Prince George's County and really expand our art's district in the county. So we're excited about it.

  • 12:57:35

    NNAMDIYou're a big non-fiction history buff, it's my understanding. And yesterday...

  • 12:57:39

    BAKERI am indeed.

  • 12:57:40

    NNAMDI...we had an author who has written a new book about black Civil War soldiers on the show yesterday. I bet you'll be interested on a book like that.

  • 12:57:48

    BAKERI would certainly do. I'm a huge Civil War history buff. And, you know, as, you know, as a graduate of Howard University's history department, that's one of my big loves. So I'm always reading.

  • 12:58:01

    NNAMDIIf you behave yourself, I may lend you my book.

  • 12:58:03

    NNAMDIRushern Baker is Prince George's County executive. Rushern Baker, always a pleasure. Thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:58:09

    BAKERThank you, Kojo.

  • 12:58:11

    NNAMDIOK. OK. Here's the book.

  • 12:58:12

    BAKEROh, thank you. Oh, wow.

  • 12:58:21

    NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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