Mayor Pugh appoints two to Baltimore school board

The director of a neighborhood nonprofit and the chairman of a middle school performing arts department are the newest members of the Baltimore school board.

Mayor Catherine Pugh announced her selection of Johnette A. Richardson and Ronald McFadden this week. It was the first time in two decades the mayor had had sole authority to appoint school board commissioners.

The mayor’s office said in a statement that having authority over the board will “assure that individuals appointed to serve City Schools understand the importance of sustaining a fiscally responsible public school system.”

The new board members have past ties to the city school system. McFadden is a Baltimore resident and former city school teacher who works on issues of “educational equity in urban communities,” according to a news release from the mayor’s office. He taught music at Booker T. Washington Middle School and helped to establish an arts-integrated school curriculum. He is a Morgan State alumnus and now works as the choral director and chair of the performing arts department of the Southwest Academy Magnet School for Science & Engineering in Baltimore County.

Richardson is the executive director of Belair-Edison Neighborhoods Inc., a nonprofit working to foster revitalization in Northeast Baltimore. She previously served as president of Afya Baltimore Inc., a public charter school operator in the city. Richardson speaks locally and nationally about community economic development, city officials said.

"Great schools create even better neighborhoods,” Richardson said in a statement. “Through intentional collaboration we must find ways to connect the two. I want to be a conduit to encourage this connectivity so that, as a city, we thrive. In this holistic approach, every neighbor, every business owner, every school leader is responsible for creating an environment where all of our children succeed."

School board chair Cheryl Casciani said she was “thrilled” to welcome the two new members.

Pugh made regaining full control over the school board one of her legislative priorities. She won that right in last year’s General Assembly, ending a 1997 arrangement under which the mayor and Maryland’s governor jointly chose members.

The district has been under fire in recent weeks after heating systems failed or pipes burst in roughly half the city’s schools during the prolonged cold snap. Videos and images of students wearing parkas in frigid classrooms went viral, prompting accusations, by Gov. Larry Hogan and others, of mismanagement by city and school district leaders. Frustrations over the problems and finger-pointing by state and local politicians came to a head during a school board meeting Tuesday night when hundreds of irate parents, students and teachers showed up to demand answers about the widespread problems and school closures.

In responding to the heating crisis, Pugh called the school conditions “unacceptable” and said the longstanding joint partnership with the state had left her hands tied.

“The fact that Baltimore City Public Schools was separated from Baltimore City government over 20 years ago and ceded to the jurisdiction of the State of Maryland inhibits my ability to intervene in critical areas that require State authority and the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners to address,” she said in a statement Tuesday. “It will take a few years given current terms before we can reconstitute the full Board.”

The school board is composed of 10 members — nine adults and one student. Board members are appointed to serve for staggered three-year terms. The mayor previously needed the governor’s approval to fill vacancies or remove a board member from office.

According to board policy, a volunteer member continues to serve until a successor is appointed. As a result, former commissioner Marnell Cooper, who was appointed in 2012, was serving a term that expired in June. Tina Hike-Hubbard’s term technically ended in 2016. They will now be replaced by Richardson and McFadden, who were recommended to Pugh by a legislatively mandated community panel focused on finding qualified candidates to help shape local education policy. The board will also include two elected commissioners starting in 2022.

trichman@baltsun.com

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