- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 16, 2002

The clock is ticking on Maryland's efforts to turn around Prince George's County schools, and the appointed school board will need to move fast to solve some of the most pressing problems, like reconciling the district's $1 billion budget and opening seven new schools this fall.
Under the state plan, a new school board, screened by the state Board of Education and appointed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening who is expected to sign the bill into law and County Executive Wayne Curry, will take control by June 1. A chief executive officer will replace the superintendent.
The new officeholders will be confronted almost immediately with a multitude of issues in the county's schools, including paring down the $1.14 budget by the end of June, resolving a federally funded, $4 million plan for magnet schools and implementing large-scale boundary changes that will affect 7,000 students in 63 schools.
While funding for schools is expected to increase this year, thanks to a bill based on a new funding formula, Prince George's will still have to reconcile a shortfall of $100 million.
Parents and community members say the new board and CEO will be "a breath of fresh air" after a long period of controversy and infighting between the outgoing board and Superintendent Iris T. Metts. However, they say they are concerned about who these new members will be and about their abilities to get the current mess in the system back on track.
"It is a gamble. Whose hands are we going to put our fate into?" said parent and activist Donna Beck.
Community members express concern that new members would not have enough time to understand some of the issues before they vote on them and may simply go along with the budget proposal and a controversial magnet proposal put forward by the Metts administration.
"I want somebody who has got a grip on what we are doing. We don't want to end up with a bunch of rubber-stampers who think this is a step to the next office," Mrs. Beck said.
The names of several potential appointees are now making the rounds, including Bea Tignor, chairman of the Management Oversight Panel (MOP) appointed by the state to oversee the school board, and Bill Shipp, also a member of the MOP.
Other names include Gary Murray Sr., chairman of the county's Economic Development Corporation, and county District Court Judge Gerry Devlin, among others. The Maryland State Board of Education advertised for board members in Sunday's newspapers.
"I am most concerned about the learning curve of the new members. They are going to be operating in the dark with little or no orientation," said board member Robert Callahan of Bowie. He said he was also worried that top management would fall apart if an emergency management team was not appointed immediately.
Several top jobs in the administration have been vacant for several months now, including positions for the chiefs of transportation, instruction and technology. It is also expected that some of Mrs. Metts' top deputies will leave with her, including Franklin Rishel, deputy superintendent for instruction, and Kenneth Brown, associate superintendent for budget.
Mrs. Beck said several problems the new board would face were aggravated during the current administration, like the opening of new schools and additions to old ones.
She said she is not sure if the new schools will open on time, given how far behind the system is on construction projects. "There is a lot that is late already things that are supposed to have opened in '01 won't even open until '03. Stuff is falling years behind and the CIP [Capital Improvement Plan] office has been allowed to run like this for years," Mrs. Beck said.
Mrs. Metts' supporters have in the past suggested that she should stay on to help the new board transition through the many issues it will face. "The new board will have to meet and decide what they want to do. I can't conceive that they will not keep her around," said Doyle Niemann, board member from Mount Rainier.
He said that there are transition issues involved, "but the situation would have been much worse if the current board had remained in power. They didn't care. There were people on that board who voted against everything she requested. Anything has got to be better than this," Mr. Niemann said.
Mrs. Metts was not available for comment yesterday, but her lawyer, Stuart Grozbean, said she was now looking at all options. About the possibility of her staying on as a CEO, as has been suggested, Mr. Grozbean said: "We are going to look at everything. She has to look out at her best interests."
Some voices in the county, however, insist that Mrs. Metts not stay on for a transition.
"If the board leaves June 1, Doctor Metts needs to leave, too. There was no transition between her and [predecessor Jerome] Clark. We have people who can take care of the system. We would be concerned about the damage she could do if she were to stay in control," said county administrators' union chief Doris Reed.
Board members, meanwhile, are considering several avenues, including a legal challenge to the bill and a referendum to block the bill for the board reorganization.
"We are checking into the legality of conducting such a referendum, and the number of signatures we will require for it," said Mr. Callahan, adding that citizens had a right to petition a law that took away their right to vote.


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