Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Members of Prince George’s County’s delegation to the Maryland General Assembly presented several plans Monday night to reconstitute the troubled county school board, plans that have met stiff objections from board members and some parents.
Among the proposals that will likely be considered during the upcoming legislative session is a plan that would create a board of six elected members and three at-large members appointed by the governor and county executive. The current nine-member board is elected.
“People are sick and tired of the way our school system functions. They want more money and to know it functions properly. They have no confidence now,” said Delegate Rushern L. Baker III, the Democratic chairman of the county delegation and a supporter of several restructuring plans.
Prince George’s, the largest school district in the state, is also one of the poorest-performing. The county’s standardized test scores consistently rank ahead of only Baltimore city.
School board Chairman Kenneth E. Johnson has clashed several times with state lawmakers, frequently over the relationship between the board and schools Superintendent Iris T. Metts.
Among their recent conflicts was one in which the board tried to force several of Mrs. Metts’ deputies to relinquish bonuses they received last year. Mrs. Metts had given her deputies the bonuses, which totaled $45,000, without the board’s approval.
Mr. Johnson said the restructuring would not address the school system’s key problems, which include a lack of resources.
“Clearly, governance is not the issue,” Mr. Johnson said. “It is that the state has failed to provide for Prince George’s County.”
Mr. Johnson also has sparred with Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Mr. Rawlings is a major supporter of restructuring the school board.
“Delegate Rawlings has a couple of our delegates in his pocket,” Mr. Johnson said. “Our delegates haven’t been strong enough to tell him to stay out.”
A similar effort to restructure the school board died last year in the General Assembly.
A competing bill, sponsored by Delegate Carolyn Howard, Prince George’s Democrat, would require a countywide referendum to approve any change in the makeup of the school board.
Parents and elected officials have said they are worried about losing the right to elect board members. Many compared it to the disenfranchisement of blacks in the segregated South.
Several parents were present at Monday night’s hearing, including Lottie Sneed, who was passing out bandages for people to wear on their foreheads.
“We feel all these proposals are just another Band-Aid that is not getting to the real issue,” Miss Sneed said. “We’ve never been funded the way we should be to be competitive.”

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