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School system power change draws mixed reaction

Monday - 4/8/2013, 1:15pm  ET

Nick Iannelli, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker III says he will immediately begin the process of searching for a new leader in his county's schools.

The Maryland General Assembly passed a bill that reworks the power structure within the state's second-largest school system.

The measure gives Baker the authority to choose the school's superintendent, select the chair and vice chair of an expanded school board and appoint three new members.

"Voters should have the chance to see whether in fact I can do well with improving schools," Baker told Newschannel 8 Monday morning.

The issue has been a point of contention in the county in recent weeks, and it continues to draw strong reaction on both sides.

"What Mr. Baker is doing is exactly right on," says Marvin Fast, who has two children at University Park Elementary School. "I think there has to be more accountability. The reins have to be pulled in a little bit."

The school system is searching for its eighth superintendent in 14 years.

Opponents question Baker's motives, bringing to light a major power change in the closing days of the legislative session without an extensive vetting process or public debate.

"This is merely a power play," says Elen Thorpe, a mother of one at University Park Elementary. "I actually don't think he has our children's best interests at heart. We're going to have a superintendent that is one of his hand-picked cronies."

Baker's initial proposal would have given him much more power, putting him in charge of the school system's $1.7 billion budget.

Lawmakers scaled back the measure during their debate.

Baker calls the issue "pivotal" and says the compromise is a step in the right direction.

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