- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 1, 2001

The state delegation from Prince George's County, Md., in a hard-line bid to improve relations between Superintendent Iris T. Metts and the school board, will likely consider drastic redistricting changes that could force all board members to seek re-election next year, state sources said yesterday.
"Something needs to be done right now," said Delegate Rushern L. Baker, Prince George's County Democrat and chairman of the state delegation. "The structure of the school board is not working."
A decision on actual legislation had not been made, "but there is a heightened feeling about how the board is structured," he said. "Whether this will turn into legislation I don't know."
The delegation has often spoken of the possibility of a bill restructuring the school board and putting in place instead an appointed school board. Developments over the past weekend, when school board members spoke to the media about Mrs. Metts' evaluation, "will also probably give people pause to look at redistricting," Mr. Baker said.
State legislators had proposed two amendments earlier this year on redistricting plans for the county, including one redrawing the nine school districts and placing all board members up for re-election. The plans were put on hold last year, until after the scheduled county redistricting in 2002.
By reintroducing a bill this year to make all the districts at-large, "citizens and PTAs would have an opportunity to get involved with a new awareness about who they want in the system," Mr. Baker said. "This would give us another bite at the apple."
He said the delegation would now focus on creating a comprehensive plan to deal with education in the county. "The more we talk about how the school board functions, the less we have to tackle the real issues in the county, like money for the schools," he said.
Mr. Baker said the Thornton Commission would soon make recommendations on funding schools statewide. "We need a plan of action on how to go after the money" instead of spending time discussing board-superintendent relations.
Sources told The Washington Times on Saturday that Mrs. Metts had gotten a "relatively negative" performance evaluation at a private session Saturday, and would not receive her annual $30,000 bonus. An attempt by some board members to oust her failed by a 5-4 vote.
Mrs. Metts refused to comment yesterday through her spokeswoman. But her lawyer said yesterday that she was disappointed about the disclosure.
Stuart Grozbean, of Belli, Weil and Grozbean P.C., added that the superintendent was "upbeat" and in good spirits yesterday, and looking forward to getting on with her work in the school system.
Asked if she was planning to sue the school board, Mr. Grozbean said his firm had been "retained to look at various options available in light of what happened."
In 1998, county schools Superintendent Jerome Clark threatened to sue the school board after members discussed his performance review with the media.
The board will now meet with the superintendent at another retreat in September to try and mend relations.
Board member Robert Callahan, District 5, said some members of the state legislature had been "set on reorganizing the board, before this, or even the bonus issue."
He said it is important that they see that the problems with Mrs. Metts are due to her personality. "If she is not misleading the current board, she will be misleading the next board," he said.
School board Chairman Kenneth E. Johnson said the state may not have any authority to force the members to seek re-election. "I was elected for a four-year term. I think there might be a legal question there," he said.
Community leaders said they are tired of political battles in the school system claiming the spotlight above real issues in the system. "This takes away attention from the problems of the school system and focuses on adult problems," said parent activist Donna Beck.
"It is a continual barrage," she said. "There is no light at the end of the tunnel, apart from the legislators' plan to take over the school board."
Mr. Baker said legislators most likely would wait until October when House Appropriations Committee hearings are scheduled, to gauge relations between the board and Mrs. Metts before making a final decision on new legislation.
Sen. Leo Green, Democrat, declined to comment specifically on the evaluation, but said both parties should make amends to make any headway with the General Assembly next winter.
"I hope they come as one family and not as a divided voice," said Mr. Green, of Prince George's County.
"They certainly got a failing grade last year when they came before us. I hope they become one family again and speak of one voice in Annapolis."
Ellen Sorokin contributed to this article.

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