- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Maryland Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said yesterday that it would be a mistake for lawmakers to change how superintendents are chosen by the state school board, and that she plans to speak in favor of keeping the current system if changes are proposed.

Gov. Martin O’Malley made it clear that he doesn’t want Mrs. Grasmick to stay in the job she has held since 1991, serving under four governors.

Mrs. Grasmick said Maryland has long made a point of insulating the superintendent from partisan politics, a key protection for someone who sometimes must make unpopular decisions on behalf of Maryland children. She has served under Govs. William Donald Schaefer, Parris N. Glendening and Mr. O’Malley, all Democrats, and under Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

Mrs. Grasmick said the superintendent’s separation from partisan politics is such a long-standing and important principle in Maryland that she plans to speak in favor of maintaining it.

“I wouldn’t call it fighting,” Mrs. Grasmick said when asked whether she would fight any move to oust her. “I would call it presenting the facts and joining with other people who feel as strongly about this issue as I do.”

Mrs. Grasmick said the superintendent needs stability to be effective in tackling tough issues that often take time.

“These are not silver-bullet issues,” Mrs. Grasmick told a joint Republican caucus that gathered for a briefing from state officials before the 90-day session begins today. “They require sustained effort. … I think that stability is extremely important.”

Last month, the state school board voted to retain Mrs. Grasmick against the will of the O’Malley administration. State law prevents the governor from firing Mrs. Grasmick outright. However, leading lawmakers have discussed changing the law.

The board that chose to keep Mrs. Grasmick contained some appointees held over from the Ehrlich administration.

Three O’Malley appointees don’t officially take their positions on the board until this summer, when the Ehrlich appointees leave their posts. However, legal questions have been raised about whether the new board could fire Mrs. Grasmick midcontract. Mr. Ehrlich tried to oust a state elections chief appointed under similar rules, but he was unable to do so.

Before the board’s vote to retain Mrs. Grasmick, both House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Southern Maryland Democrat, wrote a letter to the board asking them to refrain. They also floated the idea of limiting the ability of school board members to make appointments when their terms are nearly expired.

Although Mrs. Grasmick has not spoken with Mr. O’Malley in detail for “a number of months,” she said, she works through liaisons to the governor’s office. She said she won’t let the rift interfere with her ability to do her job.

“I have said not one disparaging remark,” Mrs. Grasmick told reporters after the briefing. “I am perfectly willing to work with anyone on behalf of our students.”

The divide between Mr. O’Malley and Mrs. Grasmick stems from an attempt by the state school board in 2006 to bring in outside managers to turn around 11 failing middle and high schools in Baltimore when Mr. O’Malley was mayor. Mrs. Grasmick contended that the state needed to act in order to avoid the potential loss of federal money the state receives.

At the time, Mr. O’Malley said the schools were making progress and he saw the plan as a political maneuver in an election year.

The General Assembly ended up blocking the intervention plan.

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