- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 31, 2000

Three top deputies of Prince George's County (Md.) schools Superintendent Iris T. Metts have hired a lawyer to force the school system to reinstate their pay bonuses bonuses the school board forced Mrs. Metts to rescind three weeks ago.

"The Board is obligated to comply with all the terms of the agreements [Mrs.] Metts negotiated on behalf of the Board, and upon which our clients relied in giving up their jobs in Delaware, moving to Maryland and entering leases for housing," Delaware lawyer David Williams said in an Aug. 25 letter to the school board.

But board members expressed anger over the administrators' seeking legal action, saying they will not only maintain the bonus recision but also work to take back the deputies' $5,000 car allowances at tonight's board meeting.

"It's unfortunate that we haven't been able to resolve this matter internally," said board member Felicia Lasley, District 7. "But the board is not going to bow down to threats."

The board revoked the bonuses during its Aug. 10 meeting, saying Mrs. Metts did not notify the board of the deputies' contracts when the board approved hiring the officials on Aug. 26, 1999.

Under questioning by three board members, Mrs. Metts who was hired last year from a Delaware school system said the bonuses had been disbursed in June. She then produced employment contracts written the day after the board had agreed to hire the deputies.

The board didn't know any contracts existed and had never seen the contracts, board members said. In years past, the school board has issued contracts to hire only the superintendent.

"Even though I wasn't here, board members are saying they haven't seen the contracts," said Ms. Lasley. "I don't have a reason to believe they are lying."

Board member Ken Johnson, District 6, declined to comment on the contracts but said the board approved only the deputies' hiring and salaries.

Deputy Superintendent Frank Rishel, who earns $130,000 a year, received a $15,000 bonus. Associate Superintendent for Instruction Suellen Harris, who earns $130,000 a year, Associate Superintendent for Finance and Budget Ken Brown, who earns $106,000, and Chief Information Officer Alberta L. Paul, who earns $106,000, each received $10,000.

Mr. Rishel, Mrs. Harris and Mr. Brown have hired Mr. Williams to force the board to return the bonuses. Mr. Williams also represents the Christina School District in Delaware, where Mrs. Metts and the three deputies worked before moving to Prince George's County.

Mr. Williams didn't return calls seeking comment. Mr. Rishel, Mrs. Harris, Mr. Brown and Mrs. Metts declined comment through schools spokeswoman Athena Ware.

Ms. Paul, who is on administrative leave while being investigation for misrepresenting herself on her credentials, isn't named in the lawyer's letter. An update on Ms. Paul's status is to be presented to the board tonight at its closed-door meeting, school sources said.

In the letter addressed to school system attorney Andrew Nussbaum, Mr. Williams said his clients have "difficulty accepting the position" that the board was unaware of the terms of the contracts.

He noted that Mrs. Metts discussed the compensation with each of the deputies last summer and told them how much she could "get from the board," quoting Mrs. Metts.

He added that without the bonuses, none of the three deputies would have come to Maryland.

"In short, we believe the Board was, from the outset, aware of all the terms of the [contracts]," he wrote. "Certainly, Metts led them to believe that was the case."

"Regardless of whether the Board knew, or should have known about bonus provisions in the [contracts], the Board is, nevertheless, obligated to honor the [contracts] it permitted Metts to negotiate on behalf of the Board," he added.

Board members disagree.

"They don't have a leg to stand on," said one board member who asked not to be identified. "No board members had ever heard of or saw those contracts to be able to approve them. And even if there were an agreement, we are not obligated to give them bonuses."

"These people got a substantial raise when they got here," said another board member privately. "Why would we give bonuses so soon after?"

"They should be suing the superintendent," said another board member. "We are not going to retreat from this."

After the board voted to rescind the bonuses, it directed Mrs. Metts to devise a new performance-based incentive plan for a wide array of staff, said school board Chairman James Henderson.

He added that the board in the future would have to approve all bonuses and employee contracts.

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