- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 2, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Prince George's County's elected school board would be replaced with an appointed panel June 1 and Superintendent Iris T. Metts would have to reapply for her job under a massive restructuring plan the county's state senators approved yesterday.
Only one of the county's eight senators voted against the bill, which goes far beyond a bill approved in the House that would replace the current school board with five elected and four appointed members.
The proposals are attempts to rescue a foundering school system whose management nearly came to a standstill this year amid infighting between Mrs. Metts and the board that hired her.
Prince George's public schools' test scores have improved slightly since Mrs. Metts was hired three years ago but remain the second-worst in the state.
The Senate measure would replace the superintendent with a chief executive officer and would create the positions of chief academic, chief financial and chief accountability officers.
It would also require the county to impose a 5 percent to 8 percent tax on telecommunication services and dedicate the money to operating expenses of the county's schools.
The measure goes to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee tomorrow and would have to clear the House and Senate, and win Gov. Parris N. Glendening's approval to become law.
Mr. Glendening has said he will support whatever the House and Senate agree on. But a spokesman for the county's House delegation Chairman Rushern L. Baker III has said it will be difficult to win county delegates' support for the all-appointed board. Yet they may find themselves "holding their noses" and voting for it rather than risk losing $64 million in extra funding next year, spokesman Ramon Korionoff said.
The Senate proposal "is not a bill to placate [the current] board or Dr. Metts," but to ensure funding needed to improve the schools as well as management reforms, said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, Democrat and president of the county's Senate delegation.
The Senate proposal was drafted within 12 hours preceding the county senators' vote yesterday afternoon and in response to deals struck in budget conference committees Saturday that could send as much as $20 million to $28 million in additional funds to the county's schools next year and more than $20 million extra each year through 2007.
Under the Senate proposal, the appointed board, which would be named jointly by Gov. Parris N. Glendening and County Executive Wayne K. Curry, would be replaced by an elected board in the fall of 2006.
The new elected board would consist of four members elected at large and five members elected from five districts but by all county voters.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. a Democrat who represents parts of Prince George's, Calvert and Anne Arundel counties told The Washington Times in February that he would push for an all-appointed board.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Howard P. Rawlings and Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Chairman Barbara Hoffman, both Baltimore Democrats, favor an all-appointed board, contending with Mr. Miller that it has worked well for Baltimore city's schools, which are still the state's worst performing.
Calls to reach Mrs. Metts for comment were not returned.
School board members decried the move, although some applauded the provision that would oust Mrs. Metts and a provision of the bill that repeals the state superintendent's power to have the final say on hiring and firing the superintendent a job that would become "chief executive officer" under the proposed realignment.
"There's never been any public support for an all-appointed board," said school board member Robert Callahan of Bowie, who said he would encourage current board members to file for state Senate and House seats if the legislation ousts them.
County school board Chairman Kenneth Johnson said the senators' action shows they "believe they know better than the people who elected them."
Mr. Johnson said moves to oust the board could draw voting-rights lawsuits from national organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Mr. Callahan said he would be a part of efforts to bring the measure to referendum if it becomes law.

The Senate rejected a Republican-sponsored proposal yesterday that would alter Gov. Parris N. Glendening's congressional-redistricting plan, which Republicans and some Democrats claim is partisan.
The amendment, offered by Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, Somerset County Republican, would have brought the plan more in line with the way the districts have been laid out for the past decade.
Republicans and some Democrats say Mr. Glendening's redistricting plan splits up the state in unnatural ways to help Democrats pick up one or two seats in the coming election. Most Democrats counter that the plan takes into account changes in population since the last U.S. census, and the political reality that voter registration is heavily Democratic.
"I feel as though we are very justified in drawing the lines as the governor did and should leave it as such," said Sen. Ida G. Ruben, Montgomery Democrat and co-chairman of the Senate redistricting committee.
But Mr. Stoltzfus pointed out that some of the communities that find themselves in the same district under the plan, such as Perry Hall in Baltimore County and Ocean City in Worcester County, have no "mutual interests." Other closer regions are split up, he said, including Baltimore County, which is cut into five congressional districts.
The Senate voted it down 28-17, with four Senate Democrats joining all 13 Republicans.
The Senate could vote on the bill as early as today. After passing, it will move to the House of Delegates.
The redistricting plan that is adopted by the legislature will be used to choose the eight members of Congress for the five elections beginning this year and ending in 2010.
There has been much grumbling about the meandering way the new districts were shaped including by some congressional incumbents. But Senate lawmakers have been hesitant to make further changes because of the ripple effect it would cause.
The Republican redistricting plan would have made the districts more geographically compact and restored more of Montgomery County to the 8th Congressional District now represented by Republican Rep. Constance A. Morella. Democrats have targeted Mrs. Morella's district as particularly vulnerable.
Maryland's congressional delegation is now evenly split with four Republicans, four Democrats.
• • •
Legislation making it illegal to carry open containers of alcoholic beverages in the passenger compartment of a motor vehicle cleared the General Assembly yesterday.
The bill is one of two major drinking-and-driving bills introduced this session. The legislature is also nearing passage of a bill to increase penalties for repeat drunken drivers.
The open-container bill now goes to Mr. Glendening, who supports it and is expected to sign it.
"This legislation will help make our roads safer by sending a signal that it is no longer OK in Maryland to drive with one hand on the wheel and the other hand on a bottle," said Michael Sarbanes, an aide to Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
The lieutenant governor made the open-container bill one of her top priorities for the 2002 session and appeared before legislative committees to urge passage of the proposal.
Thirty-four states and the District have open-container laws.
Maryland stands to lose more than $7 million in federal highway-construction funds next year unless the open-container bill and the repeat drunk-driving offender bills become law.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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