Metts' firing reversed
By MARGO ABADJIAN
Journal staff writer
The State Board of Education Monday voted
unanimously to reverse the county board's decision to fire
Superintendent Iris T. Metts.
"The county board illegally terminated her,"
said Valerie Cloutier, the state board's lead counsel. "Only the
state superintendent has the exclusive authority to terminate a
The state board will issue a detailed opinion by
its next meeting, explaining its rationale for overturning the
county board's decision, said Marilyn Maultsby, president of the
"Iris T. Metts is hereby reinstated to her
position as the superintendent of Prince George's County
Schools," she said.
The county board has the right to appeal the
decision in circuit court.
On Feb. 2, in a 6-3 vote, the county school
board fired Metts. Metts appealed the firing to the state board
of education. A temporary restraining order, granted by the
Prince George's Circuit Court Feb. 3, allowed Metts to go back
The restraining order was initiated by the three
county board members who voted against the termination. Those
members, Doyle Niemann, District 3; Catherine Smith, District 4;
and Bernard Phifer, District 8, through their attorney,
submitted their own appeal against the termination to the state
Metts' attorney, Stuart
Grozbean, has argued the firing was illegal because the
state board did not consult with the state superintendent of
schools or a school system oversight panel, nor did it give
Metts the required 45-day notice under her contract. The board
has since served Metts with a 45-day notice.
Grozbean and the attorney for the three board
members who voted against Metts' termination were allowed 10
minutes each to make their arguments to the state board Monday.
"I ask you to affirm the integrity of the law as
we've known it for the last 65 years," said Tim Maloney, who
represented the three board members who support Metts.
Quick action is in order, he said at the
hearing, as legislators are considering emergency action
regarding powers of the county school board.
"The state board of education needs to act
expeditiously," he said. "There has never been a more critical
time for Prince George's County schools and Prince George's
County than now." Grozbean argued that the contract between the
board and Metts, which allowed for a buyout should Metts be
terminated early, cannot trump state law.
"It would have been easy for Dr. Metts to turn
and run. She has been publicly ridiculed, embarrassed and
defamed both as an individual and as a professional," he said.
Metts was hired to "take charge and lead" and
instead she found a board who believed in "micromanagement,"
The state board has no jurisdiction in the
matter, argued Andrew Nussbaum, an attorney representing the
He called the dispute "a contractual matter
between the county board and its employee, the superintendent."
Responding to objections that the management
oversight panel did not receive notification of Metts'
termination, Nussbaum argued that the county board is required
to alert the MOP to hirings of senior personnel, not
The board has argued that it was justified in
firing Metts, citing declining test scores and financial
mismanagement. The board also has argued that Metts has approved
programs and financial transactions without board approval.
The board and Metts have clashed over numerous
issues since early in her administration. Board members have
accused Metts of implementing programs without board approval.
Metts has accused the board of micromanagement. Reports that
Metts was considering resigning circulated following an action
the board took restricting Metts' authority to sign contracts.
The board and Metts agreed to conduct talks to
negotiate her resignation. But the talks, which were held Feb.
2, broke down. In a closed session that same day, the board
voted to terminate Metts who has nearly 1 1/2 years left in her
The county school board once before tried to
oust Metts. A measure to fire her last summer only mustered four
votes on the board. At the same time, the board gave Metts a
below-average evaluation, and no raise or bonus. Metts has
appealed that evaluation to the state board.
After the state board returned from closed
executive session with its decision to reverse the county
board's vote, Grozbean relayed Metts'
pleasure with the decision.
When asked if Metts will stay on to the end of
her contract, he replied: "If she didn't want to finish her term
then she wouldn't have gone to the trouble [of fighting the
county board's vote]."
Board members who voted to terminate Metts said
they were disappointed with the decision.
The board sees Metts as an employee, and without
the power to terminate her position they have little supervisory
power over her, said Kenneth Johnson, board chairman
representing District 6.
"Now she has a license to do what she wants
because we can't terminate her," he said.
Johnson said the board will have to meet to
determine whether to appeal the opinion.
James Henderson, District 2, was also unhappy
with the state board's decision. Speaking by phone from a rally
in Annapolis protesting the emergency legislation that would
strip the board of some of its power, he called the decision
"third-world" and said "backroom politics has taken over Prince
"That's not what I wanted to hear," he said.
"Obviously the decision was more political than right."
Journal staff writer Sarah Brumfield contributed
to this article.
Copyright - The Journal Newspapers