- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 4, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Maryland House members will back a measure to replace the current Prince George's County school board with an all-appointed board, the chairman of the county's House delegation said yesterday.
That would put the House in step with the Senate, which yesterday approved a proposal that would force out the nine-member elected board and oust Superintendent Iris T. Metts, whose battles with the board had put school management in chaos.
"This is a sign there's got to be a major change in the school system in Prince George's County, and it's going to happen," said Delegate Rushern L. Baker III, a Democrat and the county's House delegation chairman.
The bill along with a proposal to increase the cigarette tax by 34 cents to $1 per pack would provide extra school funding statewide, including tens of millions of dollars for Prince George's. But the bills would withhold substantial amounts without reforms built around ousting the current board and appointing new members.
All of the state's 24 school boards were originally appointed, but only 11 appointed school boards remain. Prince George's switched to an elected board in 1974.
Mr. Baker's comment came after just one of the county's eight senators Nathaniel Exum, a Democrat voted against the Senate plan, which goes far beyond a proposal approved by the House that would replace the elected board with a hybrid panel of five elected and four appointed members. The Senate passed its measure yesterday on a 40-6 vote.
Under the Senate plan, the school board would return to an all-elected body in the fall of 2006. It would be made up of nine members: five elected from districts by all county voters and four elected at-large.
The Senate bill requires the county to impose a 5 percent to 8 percent telecommunications tax that would raise $20 million to $33 million for operating expenses for county schools.
House leaders have said they may have to accept the more drastic Senate plan to get the funding. They say they desperately need money to help rescue the 137,000-student school system, where test scores remain the state's second-worst behind Baltimore city, and where a local tax cap limits spending.
But Mr. Exum said lawmakers were selling out "something that is very sacred" the voters' right to elect the school board.
"When I first moved to the county, it was 13 percent people of color. It is now 70 percent and they won't have the right to choose their school board," he said.
Prince George's County PTA president, Judy Mickens-Murray, says the group supports an all-elected board, but would prefer a hybrid mix of appointed and elected members to one that is fully appointed.
"Parents reckon that there needs to be an interim fix, given the problems between the board and the superintendent. But we need to reserve some of our rights to choose," she said.
Sen. Ulysses Currie, Prince George's Democrat and a retired educator, said rights guaranteed under the Constitution can't be enjoyed without a reasonable level of education.
"We've got to send a message to every parent that your first priority is to educate your kid," Mr. Currie said, drawing applause.
Under the Senate plan, Mrs. Metts who was fired by the school board in February, but reinstated by the State Board of Education would have to reapply to stay on with the county schools.
The job of superintendent becomes chief executive officer under the Senate plan, which also calls for the new appointed board to hire chief financial, academic and accountability officers within 30 days after the board takes office June 1.
"The feeling of the House is clear that we don't want to see the superintendent leave during the school year," Mr. Baker said. He said that he hopes to amend the bill to require that Mrs. Metts be retained at least until schools close in June, and possibly into August.
Mr. Baker said delegates also want to make sure the new school board has time to evaluate Mrs. Metts if she wants to stay.
Mrs. Metts did not return repeated calls for comment, and a spokeswoman for the school system said she would not talk to reporters.
Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, the county's Senate delegation chairman, said he would be willing to write a letter encouraging the board to keep Mrs. Metts through the school year's end, but added that senators didn't want the legislature or old board to decide on the new CEO.
"I don't think it's a make-or-break issue," said Mr. Pinsky, a Democrat.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening has said he will sign whatever the legislature agrees upon.
Mr. Glendening and County Executive Wayne K. Curry, both Democrats, would jointly appoint the nine new county school board members from a list of nominees to be prepared by the state Board of Education.
The nine appointed members would have to be Prince George's residents. Mandated qualifications would include management experience in a large business, government or nonprofit organization; experience managing a business; and education expertise. One member would be the parent of a student in the county's schools.

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