Lawmakers seek to defang school board
By Margie Hyslop and Vaishali Honawar
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Prince George's County lawmakers and Maryland
Gov. Parris N. Glendening yesterday moved to strip the county
school board of much of its authority, setting the stage for
overturning the board's ouster of Superintendent Iris T. Metts.
They also are developing legislation to
restructure the school board by swapping some of its nine
elected positions for three appointed ones.
"It is clear that there is a crisis in the
management of the Prince George's County public schools. I am
frustrated that there has been too much focus on petty issues
instead of creating the learning environment our children need
to succeed. Too many of our school officials are engaged in
irrelevent and petty power plays," said Mr. Glendening, himself
the former top elected official in the county.
The state's impending crackdown on the suburban
county is rare but unquestionably legal, lawmakers said.
According to the Maryland Constitution, all local government,
including school boards, derive their authority from state law.
The principle also applies to the membership of school boards,
which still are appointed in 11 of the state's 24 jurisdictions.
In 1997, the state switched the city of
Baltimore's school board from an elected to an appointed one and
instituted extra state oversight to improve the failing city
schools that rank as the state's worst.
Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore
Democrat who has insisted on school reforms in Prince George's
County, the state's second-worst-performing system, dismissed
critics who call an appointed board undemocratic.
"The process is democratic, [and] the
Constitution gives the state the responsibility of providing a
fair and efficient school system. Clearly the Prince George's
system is not," Mr. Rawlings said.
"What's undemocratic is to have people without
choices have to decide to send their children to schools that
don't work," said Delegate Rushern L. Baker III, chairman of the
Prince George's House delegation.
To resolve what Mr. Glendening called a "circus"
and "an absolute crisis in Prince George's school system
management," county lawmakers and Mr. Glendening said they will
back legislation to create an executive committee with power to
veto any major personnel action or contract over $25,000 that
the school board proposes.
The personnel provision and a $25,000 threshold
ensure that the current board — none of whom is up for
re-election until November — would be unable to install a new
superintendent selected by a six-member majority that many
accuse of micromanaging and political grandstanding.
The Prince George's delegation approved the bill
last night on a nonbinding 15-3 vote; two members who are school
system employees declined to vote.
The bill now goes to the House, where the Ways
and Means Committee could take it up as early as today.
The measure would be retroactive to Feb. 1,
which would make it possible for the panel to reject the board's
Saturday firing of Mrs. Metts.
The proposal also would give the executive
committee — with two members appointed by the governor, two by
the county executive and one from an existing Management
Oversight Panel by the state superintendent — power to appoint a
superintendent, and other top administrators, if the executive
committee rejects two consecutive board appointments.
"I have agreed with the General Assembly,
particularly with the senators and delegates of Prince George's
County, to create a Crisis Management Board that will review all
major personnel and financial decisions in the school system,"
Mr. Glendening said.
The move also would buy time for a second
measure legislators are developing to restructure the board to
include appointed members.
While the immediate focus has shifted to the
emergency bill, Prince George's Senate delegation Chairman Paul
G. Pinsky, Democrat, said recent developments make it even more
likely the legislature will approve a bill to restructure the
county school board.
Mr. Glendening and state leaders said the
emergency bill to limit the school board could be signed into
law at the end of this week or the beginning of next.
Board member Robert Callahan said the emergency
bill in Annapolis is "a very tough piece of legislation. If
passed, the board should take action against it in the
courthouse." He described the legislators' move as "backroom,
Mrs. Metts returned to work yesterday at the
school system's Sasscer Administration Building in Upper
Marlboro after a weekend during which she was fired by the board
and reinstated by a court order.
In accordance with the court order, Mrs. Metts
was served with a 45-day notice of termination yesterday by
board Chairman Kenneth E. Johnson, but board sources said they
might explore other options, like placing the superintendent on
administrative leave or scaling back her authority.
Mrs. Metts' lawyer, filed an appeal with the state Board of
Education yesterday. He said the superintendent was hoping to
serve until the end of her contract, which expires next year,
and not just for the 45-day notice period.
"The 45-day notice is not a valid notice. We
think that the resolution that Judge Missouri found invalid made
the entire resolution invalid," Mr.
Sources said there was concern in Annapolis that
Mr. Johnson plans to offer Mrs. Metts an expensive buyout of her
contract as early as today.
On Saturday, the board fired Mrs. Metts 21/2
years into her contract after talks of a resignation deal broke
down. On Sunday, three board members who voted against firing
Mrs. Metts and the Management Oversight Panel won a 10-day
injunction to stay Mrs. Metts' firing.
Although Mr. Johnson would not name her, sources
say the board's choice for interim superintendent is Jacqueline
Brown, a Howard County administrator, who was in the race for
the superintendent's job in 1999 when Mrs. Metts was hired.