- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 20, 2002

Schools Superintendent Iris T. Metts says she would like to see Prince George's County through its transition with a new appointed board and foresees for herself a future "close to schools and children," perhaps within the county.
Mrs. Metts, who was fired by the school board, reinstated by the state Board of Education, then given her marching orders by state legislators, all in less than three months, said she does not have any job offers on the table but has "had some talks."
Under recently passed legislation, the superintendent will be replaced on June 1 by a chief executive officer, and the county school board will get nine new, appointed members. The bill, yet to be signed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, would allow Mrs. Metts to reapply for the CEO position.
She did not rule out that possibility yesterday in an interview with The Washington Times at her Upper Marlboro office.
"I can apply to stay here longer, but I will not make a decision until I see who the new board members are," she said. "I would not want to go through another session of the board and the superintendent not working together. My commitment, at this point, is to see the system through the transition."
Mrs. Metts and her husband own a home in Mitchellville, and she said, "It doesn't matter what I pursue, Prince George's County will always be home." She indicated that she might have an opportunity to stay on in the county but would not discuss specifics.
Mrs. Metts, 60, who had told The Times in an interview last year that she saw this job as her last one, said yesterday that she hopes to do more.
"I do not see this as the end of my career. I want to work until I am 62. I have the energy to work longer," she said, adding that she sees herself in an urban school setting. "I have a lot to offer."
During her nearly three years as superintendent, her public battles with the nine-member school board made news more frequently than any other issue in the county. In her rush to implement reform in what some describe as her "ambush" style, she has stepped on many toes.
Mrs. Metts does not apologize for her actions. "We made tough decisions. We called it as we saw it. Whenever you rock the boat, you will always create enemies," she said.
She enraged principals by making massive funding cuts for schools and turned some of her strongest supporters on the school board against her. Then there were the bonuses she awarded to her top deputies, without board permission. This year, the battle was rejoined when she signed a $1.9 million contract with five churches for her Head Start program, again, the board said, without consulting them.
"Her leadership style did not fit this community," said parent-activist Donna Beck. "She is a game player, and she governs by ambushing."
Mrs. Beck said she became disillusioned because of what she sees as Mrs. Metts' ambiguity with both parents and school board members over a $4 million grant for magnet programs.
"She has always been a politician rather than a superintendent. She has always played favorites with the community. And she felt she was not reportable to the school board," Mrs. Beck said.
There are others, though, who say she did more for the county than any of her predecessors. Doyle Niemann, one of three board members who voted against firing her in February, points to the all-day kindergarten program and mandatory summer school she put in place.
"She put life into early-intervention and reading-recovery programs. Before she came here, we just talked about making these changes, but she actually did it," he said.
But Mrs. Metts' critics on the board point to several instances when they were told either too late or too little about her plans for the school system from the funding cuts, to the opening of a military school at Forestville Elementary, to the grants for Head Start.
Robert Callahan was among the board members who voted to bring in Mrs. Metts as superintendent in July 1999. Over the years, he has become one of her most vocal critics.
"It was a lot of things total lack of communication with the board, taking major actions without sharing or discussing it with the board," he said.
But, he added, awarding bonuses to her deputies without board consent "was the straw that broke the camel's back."
Mrs. Metts said she had always informed the board about her actions but that they had a tendency to "micromanage."
She pulled out four thick folders of memos she had received from members since she took over.
"They're about parking spaces, things like misused leave, rumors. This is a board that would listen to anything that was negative and respond before confirming it," she said.
Mr. Niemann agrees that Mrs. Metts had problems communicating with the board but said it was not one-sided. "She could have improved her communication, but then there were a lot of times when people said they had not been told of something ahead of time, when what they meant is that they could not stop something ahead of time," he said.
Mrs. Metts agrees. "Perhaps I needed to change my style. I tried teaching them, but the more I tried, the more they resisted. It should have been a process where we helped each other. I needed a board's vision and wisdom, and they needed my experience," she said.
She said her being a woman also set some people against her. "It is very clear that it is difficult for women in politics. A lot of men are not accustomed to having women in leadership roles," said Mrs. Metts, the county's first female superintendent.
Pointing to the new legislation, she said things have worked out well for the county's school system. "A lot of things will be better now, and if I was an instrument of change, I did a good service to the county," she said.

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