Metts Named Finalist for School Post Near Atlanta
By Nancy Trejos and Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, February 19, 2002; Page B01
Prince George's School Superintendent Iris T.
Metts, who was fired by the county school board and then
reinstated by the state Board of Education this month, is a
finalist for the top job in the DeKalb County school district in
Although she has interviewed with officials of
the 98,000-student school district twice, Metts said she wants
to remain in Prince George's County for as long as she can.
"I'm committed to the school district. I'm
committed as long as I can do some good for the school
district," Metts said yesterday.
Metts declined to talk further about her
employment and referred questions to an attorney,
Grozbean said that a search firm asked Metts to
interview with the DeKalb County school district last month,
just as Prince George's school board members were saying they
would be willing to take a vote to fire her. The current DeKalb
school superintendent is retiring and is scheduled to leave at
the end of this school year.
"In the event that something would have
happened, she wanted to know there was something else out
there," Grozbean said. "Her actions
were reasonable in light of the fact that there was so much
uncertainty with her employment. It was prudent and in no way
should reflect on her desire to stay in Prince George's County."
The firing imbroglio has prompted state
legislators to consider a plan that would sharply curtail the
county school board's power. They are also contemplating
dismantling the board and adding appointed members.
Under the plan, which was passed by the Maryland
House and is set to go before the Senate, a new oversight panel
would have to approve or reject almost all of the school board's
contract and senior personnel decisions, including the hiring of
an interim superintendent if Metts were to leave.
"I would hate for this current board to be in a
position of selecting a new superintendent if Dr. Metts leaves,"
Del. Howard P. Rawlings (D-Baltimore), chairman of the House
Appropriations Committee, said yesterday.
Rawlings said he understood why Metts looked
"Professionally, she had no choice, given the
climate that was created by the adversarial actions of the
school board, [but] to put herself in the marketplace," he said.
But school board members who say that Metts has
spent money without their approval and is responsible for
falling test scores and an exodus of principals and top
administrators said they hoped she would take a job elsewhere.
"I think it's the best thing that could possibly
happen to the children of Prince George's County," said school
board Chairman Kenneth E. Johnson (Mitchellville). "I still
think she ought to be out of here."
The school board is considering appealing the
state Board of Education's reinstatement of Metts. Metts has
feuded with the county school board since her first months on
the job, but the relationship worsened last month when the board
approved a resolution forbidding her to sign contracts exceeding
$5,000 without its approval.
Days after the board's vote on the resolution,
Metts indicated that she was considering jobs elsewhere but
declined to say where.
Upon hearing that the school board was prepared
to fire her, Metts offered to let the school board buy out the
remaining 1 1/2 years of her four-year contract.
She also flew to Georgia to meet with DeKalb
County school board members in the days before her attorneys
were set to meet with the Prince George's school board attorneys
to negotiate a buyout, sources said. DeKalb school board member
Sarah Wood said yesterday that a vote will be held soon to
select a superintendent from among four finalists. Georgia state
law does not require the board to disclose the names of
candidates until the finalist list has been whittled to three,
On Feb. 2, hours after negotiations broke down,
the Prince George's school board voted 6 to 3 to fire Metts. The
next day, a Circuit Court judge ruled that the board violated
Metts's contract by ordering to leave immediately instead of
giving her 45 days' notice.
Johnson responded by delivering a termination
letter with the proper notice. Metts appealed to the state Board
of Education, which ruled last week that the county board
ignored a state statute giving the state superintendent the
right to fire a local superintendent, and it reversed the county
school board's decision.
Despite Metts's reinstatement, some DeKalb
County school board members have indicated that they would
probably not vote to hire Metts because of the controversy, even
if she is qualified, sources said.
DeKalb's superintendent search has been watched
closely by Georgia civil rights activists, who hope that a black
candidate will be selected. The school system was under a
federal court desegregation order from the late 1960s until
1996. DeKalb's black population has grown dramatically in the
last decade, rising from 42 percent of the county in 1990 to 54
percent in the 2000 Census.
The county's schools have struggled with low
test scores and crowded campuses, presenting vexing challenges
for the next superintendent.
Grozbean said that
Metts, who is black, would not work in a school district if she
were not unanimously chosen. She was tapped to be the Prince
George's top schools chief in 1999, even though three board
members voted for another candidate.
But the state Board of Education's decision to
reinstate Metts has granted her a job security she has not had
"After the unanimous decision by the State Board
of Education, she is committed to staying in PrinceGeorge's
County," Grozbean said.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company