- The Washington Times - Friday, June 15, 2001

State schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick yesterday offered to mediate in a bitter, ongoing dispute between the Board of Education and the superintendent of schools in Prince Georges County.
The dispute is over $35,000 awarded in bonuses to three top deputies of PG Superintendent Iris T. Metts in June last year without board approval. Last week, seven of the boards nine members voted to sue the deputies if they did not return the money by Dec. 1.
The deputies are expected to respond today to a board-set deadline on whether they will return their bonuses.
Yesterday, school sources said that the board planned to offer the deputies a compromise, wherein they would have to repay half the amount they had received as a bonus.
In a letter to Artis Hampshire-Cowan, chairman of the state-appointed Management Oversight Panel, Mrs. Grasmick wrote: "I believe there is an appropriate role for the state superintendent to play to attempt to forge a resolution to the problem. I have played the role on other occasions in other local board/superintendent disputes. … I believe that I can bring a level of objectivity to the discussion on the issues and am therefore ready and willing to become involved and attempt a resolution to the current situation."
The letter from Mrs. Grasmick was in response to one sent to her by Mrs. Hampshire-Cowan on Wednesday. In the letter, the MOP chairwoman asked Mrs. Grasmick to intervene in the long-running dispute over the bonuses.
Mrs. Grasmick, however, stipulated that she would participate only if both the school board and Mrs. Metts agree to her intervention "and agree to bring a level of flexibility to the mediation."
Neither Mrs. Metts nor PG school board Chairman Kenneth Johnson returned calls yesterday, but in a letter to Mrs. Hampshire-Cowan earlier this week, Mr. Johnson had said that the board hoped "you and other politicians will not interfere with the board as it exercises its legal authority to manage its employee."
Mrs. Hampshire-Cowan said the boards unwillingness to work with the MOP was "well-documented." She also said that Mrs. Metts had had a more conciliatory approach.
Whether Mrs. Grasmick would mediate in the county would now depend on Mr. Johnson, she said.
Board member Robert Callahan said Mrs. Grasmicks intervention "might be a good idea as long as the boards authority is not overstepped by the state."
Mrs. Hampshire-Cowan said state intervention was necessary.
"We have been trying to work out a solution for a long time and it has not occurred," she said.
"We believe it is terribly important to ensure the future of the Prince Georges school system and you dont achieve it by the board and the superintendent not having a good relationship," she said.
Doyle Neimann, one of the two school board members who voted against suing the deputies, said the majority of the school board had an "agenda to get rid of" Mrs. Metts, which they were pursuing in a "backhanded manner" through the bonus dispute.
The deputies, he said, had been promised the bonuses in their contracts and therefore had the right to keep the money. He said a compromise was necessary, and Mrs. Metts had already offered to forgo her own right to a bonus, among other things.
Meanwhile, the countys teachers union has called on the school board and Mrs. Metts to end the dispute.
Stressing that they did not want to take sides, the unions executive director, Lewis Robinson, said, "We want to work it out like the mature, professional educators and board members we have come to know on both sides of the issue, as we do not want to see anyone leave the system. Both sides must remember they are being carefully watched by the children in Prince Georges County."

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