- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 7, 2001

Maryland’s Prince George’s County School Board will likely give schools Superintendent Iris T. Metts a negative performance evaluation this month, halfway through her four-year contract, a board member has told The Washington Times.
The board member, who asked not to be identified, described Mrs. Metts’ two years in office as “very rocky, very unpredictable” and said the board would likely give her a negative evaluation during its July 27-29 retreat in Baltimore.
The board last month had a showdown with Mrs. Metts over $45,000 she gave in bonuses to her top deputies without the board’s knowledge. After Mrs. Metts submitted a formal letter of apology to the board, it dropped its plans to sue the deputies to retrieve the bonuses, and she dropped her threats to resign.
The member said the board also may decide not to give Mrs. Metts a bonus next year; under her contract, she can receive a bonus of up to $30,000 in addition to her $160,000 annual salary.
Mrs. Metts, 58, has been a lightning rod for criticism since the county school board hired her away from her job as Delaware’s state school superintendent in July 1999. She was described as a reform-minded administrator who promised to bring teachers and positive changes to the troubled county school system.
Her methods have angered many in the system, including some principals and the majority of the school board members. Now, as one member said, many on the board would be happy to see her go.
But her supporters and even some of her detractors warn against dismissing Mrs. Metts’ contribution. She may have angered the board by making large cuts in school budgets, but she also reversed a long-running decline in standardized test scores and brought into the school system much-needed money from the state and the county.
Some say she also has brought a degree of stability.
“She has started to lay a foundation that the system has been lacking for a long time,” said Judy Mickens-Murray, president of the county’s newly elected PTA.
Supporters say Mrs. Metts improved relations between the school system and state and county politicians who are now among her most vocal supporters.
Board member Doyle Neimann, District 3, said she has provided “a new level of accountability.”
“She has been able to come in and bring about change. She brought additional funds, and improved relations between the system and the political community,” Mr. Neimann said, adding that she also has raised test scores by redirecting the curriculum and “bringing the focus back to the basics.”
Her “strong, forceful” personality sometimes ruffled feathers, he said, “because she doesn’t want to be told what to do by individuals.”
Over the past two years, more than a dozen principals have left the county, including Eleanor Roosevelt High School’s acclaimed Principal Gerald Boarman, Northwestern High School’s Kevin Maxwell and Templeton Elementary’s Michael Castagnola.
Principals have been particularly angry over Mrs. Metts’ deep cuts in Comprehensive School Improvement funds — supplemental money given to schools for additional staff, textbooks and supplies.
Others are tired of her “one-size-fits-all” approach, said county administrators’ union chief Doris Reed. “Her administration came in with the attitude that nobody did anything right before they came here.”
Ms. Reed said it is the principals, not Mrs. Metts, who deserve credit for improving the standardized test scores. “They were a result of things implemented before she ever got here,” she said.
Ms. Reed said the superintendent also has thrown out an eligibility list of people suitable to become principals, prepared by the state over several years, and had brought in as principals people who in many cases were not qualified for the job.
County parents say Mrs. Metts has been able to bring positive changes to the system, but add it is hard to communicate with her and her staff.
Mrs. Mickens-Murray said Mrs. Metts has not used her deputies effectively to reach the people. “She could have allowed them to communicate on her behalf,” the PTA president said.
During the next two years, observers say, the superintendent and the board should resolve their differences to work together on what is best for the children.
Mrs. Mickens-Murray called for an improvement in the “disheartening” relationship between the board and Mrs. Metts.
Mr. Neimann said that over the next two years the school board will have to learn to work with Mrs. Metts — or face repercussions. “There will be major changes … the board will improve relations with her or the board will be gone.”

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