Eyerolling, heavy sighs, head shaking.
The many moods of a number of members of the Prince George’s County Board of Education in Maryland have been on display in virtual meetings for months while they engaged in sometimes rancorous debate with Dr. Juanita Miller, the appointed board chair.
The disputes have come to a head as six board members — Edward Burroughs, Joshua Thomas, David Murray, Kenneth Harris, Shayla Adams-Stafford and Raaheela Ahmed — have turned to the state Board of Education to ask that Miller be removed.
Burroughs told WTOP that Miller “has repeatedly, repeatedly violated board policy, and has impeded the ability of the board to function.” Burroughs added, “We have a very strong and clear case.”
In an email statement released Friday, Miller wrote that the six members seeking her removal “have demonstrated contempt and disregard for adhering to policy and bylaws and have consistently attempted to undermine my leadership.”
Miller also suggested that there were “serious ethics infractions” involving the six board members, but did not elaborate. She also said she had not seen the petition for her removal.
Asked if the statement meant she would not step down, Miller wrote in an emailed response to WTOP: “At this point, only a critical illness or death will keep me from fulfilling my term.”
At the last board meeting, held June 24, Burroughs accused Miller of flouting contract rules.
During the meeting, Miller announced that she’d hired attorney Kevin Karpinski to advise the board on issues related to parliamentary procedure. Burroughs and Murray challenged her authority to do that.
Burroughs insisted Miller doesn’t have the authority to enter into contracts without the consent of the board: “She hired a lawyer absent a vote of the board, which she cannot do.”
Miller and Sonya Williams, the vice chair of the board, insisted that under procurement rules, Miller could enter into contracts under $25,000.
At one point, an exasperated Karpinski, who sat in on the meeting, told the board members, “It’s readily apparent to me that this board is entirely dysfunctional. And I would suggest that you work very hard on getting a full-time lawyer in here that everyone can work with.”
While Miller was appointed chair by County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, the county executive does not have the authority to remove her. Only the state Board of Education has that authority, and that’s why the six board members filed a petition with the state.
The standard for removing school board members is high, according to state regulations. Petitioners would have to prove one or more of the following:
(a) Misconduct in office;
(d) Willful neglect of duty; or
(e) Failure to attend a required number of scheduled board meetings.
Asked about the controversy surrounding Miller, Alsobrooks told WTOP, “It really does need to end. The state has the authority and the ability to step in at some point and assist us with it.”
She added, “The most shameful part of all of this is that instead of focusing on our children, we have been embroiled in these adult differences that have detracted away from what we need to do for our kids.”
Ninah Jackson, the student member of the board, wound up her term as a member of the board during the June 24 meeting by delivering a message to the adult members, and to the public.
“Since the turn of the calendar year,” Jackson said, “this Board of Education has unequivocally been its own worst enemy.” She said that members “stand before the public bickering and arguing — not over substantive policy differences or school operations, but over personal agendas, bad-faith actions, power struggles and narrative-weaving.”
Jackson told the board “to do better, to be better, and to envision a tomorrow that is better than ours today.”