- The Washington Times - Friday, April 12, 2002

Many Prince George's County, Md., parents say they are resigned to state lawmakers' decision to dissolve the school board even if this infringes on their voting rights because, as one parent said, "Something had to be done."
"Both the superintendent and the school board were out of control," said David L. Levy, a father of two in Hyattsville. "[Superintendent Iris T. Metts] wasn't doing the right job, and the board invited a crackdown."
Others said the General Assembly's move to replace the county's elected board for the next four years with an appointed panel would be good for schoolchildren.
"The restructuring of the school board was necessary for the greater good," said Judy Mickens-Murray, president of the county PTA. "Everyone will benefit, even if it doesn't seem that way today."
Mrs. Mickens-Murray echoes other parents in saying that, because the measure is temporary, the erosion of county residents' voting rights and voice in education isn't necessarily a valid argument.
"Many citizens don't even know who their board members are," she said. "It's temporary and a small price to pay."
Other residents oppose the change, saying it weakens their influence in education and lessens parental participation.
"The public needs to have access to decision-makers around education and achievement issues," said Janis Hagey, coordinator of People's Report Card, a group of about 200 parents, community activists and county businesses that formed last fall to oppose the change. "We won't get that access with an appointed board who will be loyal to those who appointed them."
State lawmakers voted Monday on a bill that would replace elected board members with an all-appointed board, beginning June 1.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat and former Prince George's County executive, has said he will sign the bill into law.
The bill also would replace the superintendent with a chief executive officer and create the positions of chief academic, chief financial and chief accountability officers. The governor and county executive jointly will name school board members, who will be replaced by an elected board in 2006.
Lawmakers had tried tinkering with the troubled school system before. This time legislators were determined after the nine-member board tried to fire Mrs. Metts in February and later when state funding became linked to a restructuring of school governance.
The board was overruled by the State Board of Education under an obscure law requiring boards to obtain state approval before terminating superintendents. Lawmakers repealed that law this week.
County residents said they were tired of the disputes between the board and Mrs. Metts, who was hired three years ago, but that they didn't know if the state's action would improve the 137,000-student school system.
They said school business had come to a near standstill because of infighting and pointed to falling tests scores that had improved initially then dipped since Mrs. Metts was hired. The county's standardized test scores remain the second-worst in the state, behind Baltimore's.
Some parents called the millions of dollars in school funding tied to the bill "blackmail" and worried that the new board's hands would be tied because the funds were earmarked for a specific use.
Others fretted over the short timetable to install a CEO and board, given that the newcomers will have to reconcile the budget by June 30 and hire staff for more than a half-dozen new schools this summer.
Residents also want to know who will be appointed to the board, saying it could become ineffective if its members are chosen based on political ties.
The bill would allow the new board to hire an interim administrator who could be Mrs. Metts until a CEO is found. The new board is to select a CEO by July 1, but a provision allows for the extension of an interim CEO.
"It's a mess," says Doris Reed, who heads the county's school administrators union. "No one has any idea what is happening, and everyone is scared. The only good thing about it is that [Mrs. Metts] might be gone."
If Mrs. Metts stays, Mrs. Reed said, "she will wreak havoc."
Yet Novella Sargusingh of Riverdale, who has a son in a county high school, says many parents want Mrs. Metts to be evaluated by the new board and retained. "The problem was bigger than Iris Metts," she said.
"I liked the way she started turning things around. The board tied her hands."

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