Voters in Prince George’s County’s District 5 school board race will have to choose between an experienced administrator and a newcomer to the political scene who promises to bring new ideas and greater community outreach.
The race pits incumbent and current board chairwoman Jeana Jacobs, 45, of Mitchellville against Raaheela Ahmed, 19, of Bowie.
Prince George’s County Public School System has a budget of nearly $1.6 billion and about 204 schools. The board also deals with the concerns of its roughly 125,000 students and about 9,000 teachers, according to information from the county school system.
Jacobs, a lawyer, has served on the board since November 2006 when she was elected to an at-large seat. She has represented District 5 since 2010. For the past five years she has been the board’s chairwoman.
Her re-election bid is an effort to maintain continuity on the board and to continue pressing forward toward greater success, she said.
“We've spent all these years trying to rebuild the school system,” Jacobs said. “We're so poised right now as a school system to go to that next level in achievement.”
That continuity is necessary as the board in tight fiscal times needs to be ready to discuss issues such as class sizes and staff pay, she said.
The school system has progressed, however the changes have been rocky at times, said Erica Gonzales a member of Bowie’s Rockledge Elementary’s Parent Teacher Association. Since the school shifted to budgeting for schools based on enrollment, an effort to reduce crowding at schools like Rockledge where Gonzales’ daughters attend, the amount of resources and manpower at the school has shifted, Gonzales said.
“I think we need to spend more time monitoring solutions rather than adding new ones,” Gonzales said.
Ahmed, a sophomore finance major at the University of Maryland, College Park, says that while she respects her experience, Jacobs has failed in being responsive to her constituents.
“I don’t feel the presence of the board member in our community,” Ahmed said.
If elected, Ahmed said she would work to build better relationships between herself and area parents, students and concerned organizations.
“There should be no hesitation about speaking to the public,” she said. “Once I get into office, I intend to go out and meet with all of my school officials and PTA members.”
Jacobs questions how well the school system can handle having someone who is unfamiliar with running a large organization and managing a budget.
“Everybody has experience,” she said. “Unless you’re able to utilize that experience to help students, I don’t see how that’s a momentum building force.”
Both candidates support the notion of a new high school in the Bowie area, but both acknowledged timing may be an issue due to the tight budgetary environment.
“With the way the school system is going right now, I don’t think a second high school is possible at this time,” Ahmed said. “I don’t think it’s a priority.“
Jacobs said that she has long been a supporter of a second Bowie high school and if elected would continue to prioritize it, she said.
“I've always felt that Bowie has changed it has grown,” Jacobs said. “I'm going to be advocating for it every single year in the CIP.”