- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 3, 2002

Prince George's County parents and activists say an all-appointed school board will rob them of their democratic rights and leave them with no voice in the school system.
A day after the county's Senate delegation voted 7-1 to scrap the current school board structure, community members said they were surprised by the decision and hope that the measure does not become law.
"We are devastated. This is a terrible bill. The senators are just hanging the county's citizens out to dry," said Janis Hagey, coordinator of People's Report Card, a group of about 200 parents, community activists and county businesses formed last fall to oppose legislation for an appointed board.
"This is an affront to the voters, and we will continue to lobby against this bill," said Mrs. Hagey, whose group has organized several rallies in Annapolis to fight bills to restructure the board.
"I am insulted," said county administrators union chief Doris Reed. "I have been a county resident for 20 years. I elected these senators, and now they think I am not smart enough to elect school board members."
The General Assembly has considered stepping in to fix the troubled school system before, but the problems took on new urgency this session when the ongoing feud between the nine-member school board and Superintendent Iris T. Metts boiled over. In February, the board voted to fire Mrs. Metts, but was overruled by the state board of education.
County residents say that they are tired of the disputes between the board and Mrs. Metts, who was hired three years ago, but that they don't believe that the Senate's proposal is the right solution for the 137,000-student school system.
Besides creating an appointed board, the measure would also 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 would jointly name school board members, who would be replaced by an elected board in 2006.
Judy Mickens-Murray, president of the county PTA, said she was disappointed by the Senate delegation's decision.
"In my opinion, the delegation did not listen to the voters," she said.
Both the county PTA and the county teachers union support a board with a mix of elected and appointed officials. The House has approved such a bill, which would comprise five elected and four appointed board members.
"The situation in the county has caused major concern, but the key thing we need to get is a balance," said Celeste Williams, president of the county's 8,000-member teachers union.
Other solutions have been suggested. The People's Report Card, for instance, had supported a bill proposed by Delegate Joan B. Pitkin, Prince George's Democrat, that would have allowed voters to recall school board members. The bill did not find any backing in the House.
The bill approved by the county's senators Monday will go to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. It will have to clear the House and Senate, and get Gov. Parris N. Glendening's approval to become law.
The board, meanwhile, says it will move ahead with plans to sue on constitutional grounds if the legislation passes.
Board member Robert J. Callahan of Bowie said he would recommend that the board take action in federal court on civil rights grounds.
"This is an extreme miscarriage of justice that effectively takes away the rights of parents and voters in the oversight of the school system," Mr. Callahan said yesterday.
Under the Senate proposal, county schools could get as much as $28 million in additional funds next year and more than $20 million extra each year through 2007. Mr. Callahan said that tying the funds to the proposal for an all-appointed board was "blackmail."
Howard Tutman, vice president of the county PTA, said that tying the extra funding to an appointed board would not help because the amount proposed would not fulfill the school system's needs.
"The appointed school board is going to say we are still short of money," he said. "Even if we get these extra funds, we will still be overcrowded and we will still be losing teachers."
Residents also expressed concerns about who would be on the appointed board. Mr. Tutman said it would be a problem if members were appointed based on their political ties.
Mrs. Hagey said there was no proof that an appointed board would do any better than an elected one.
"For instance, there is no evidence that appointed board members will make any decisions about reducing class sizes," she said.


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