Wednesday, November 7, 2001

The Maryland state superintendent of schools and the acting chairman of the Management Oversight Panel told state lawmakers yesterday they had seen improvements in Prince George’s County schools but remained concerned about the Board of Education.
The statements by panel Chairman Beatrice Tignor and Superintendent Nancy Grasmick further cleared the way for lawmakers to overhaul the nine-member board after attempts to do so stalled in the state Senate last session.
“There have been several well-publicized embarrassments that have taken place since our February appearance that did not build public confidence in the board’s ability to tackle its top priority of improving student achievement,” Mrs. Tignor said.
Mrs. Tignor told lawmakers that the school system had complied with half the recommendations made in the 1998 performance audit. The audit, ordered by the state, found that the district lost millions of dollars annually through mismanagement, overstaffing, poor bookkeeping and outdated systems.
Mrs. Tignor praised Prince George’s County schools Superintendent Iris T. Metts’ accomplishments and criticized the board for its failure to heed its own ethics panel’s recommendations regarding the overspending of board members’ $9,800 expense accounts.
She also noted that one board member had failed to reimburse the school system more than a year after the overspending was uncovered by The Washington Times.
Mrs. Grasmick praised the school system’s progress while expressing concern over the relationship between the board and Mrs. Metts and its impact on school reform.
Mrs. Metts testified about the status of several reform initiatives, including the mandatory summer-school program, all-day kindergarten and the recently released four-year master plan.
Mrs. Metts also testified that she believed the school system was underfunded.
“The children in Prince George’s County public schools are no less worthy of a fully funded education … For those enrolled in our classrooms today, tomorrow will be too late.”
Board Chairman Kenneth Johnson blamed the media and politically motivated individuals for creating controversy for the board. He pleaded with state officials to fully fund the system and promised a better working relationship with Mrs. Metts, but he failed to address overspending of expense accounts.
The hearing is a prequel to state lawmakers’ efforts to reconstitute the elected school board when the legislature reconvenes in January. Last year, lawmakers came close to creating a board with at-large members or appointed members, but the state Senate balked again. Other lawmakers have considered replacing both the board and schools superintendent.
Yesterday’s meeting precedes the anticipated release of Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) test scores, which are expected in a few weeks. School sources say the test scores have declined for the second year in a row.
Mrs. Metts won a reprieve from lawmakers and county officials when countywide scores on the basic skills tests rose significantly this spring. But if MSPAP scores decline, lawmakers say, they will move to restructure the school administration and school board. The county has consistently ranked second to last in the state behind Baltimore on the MSPAPs.

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