- The Washington Times - Friday, April 5, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Delegates from Prince George's County yesterday accepted the Senate's proposal to establish a temporary all-appointed school board as a way to bring stability to the embattled school system.
In an 11-8 vote, the House delegation approved a major portion of the Senate legislation, which mandates that the board consist of nine appointees named jointly by the governor and the county executive.
"We've just taken a major step to change the Prince George's school system, and I think for the better," said Delegate Rushern L. Baker III, chairman of the county delegation. Mr. Baker said he had been pressing for changes in the school board for four years.
The appointed board would go into effect June 1 and terminate in December 2006, when the county would return to an elected board.
However, the Prince George's delegates did not concur with all the provisions in the Senate legislation, so a conference committee will still be needed to sort out some of the less significant details.
Under the legislation, the county superintendent would be replaced by a chief executive officer, much like in the reconstitution of the Baltimore city school board in 1997.
That would force current Superintendent Iris T. Metts to reapply for the new position, although her lawyer, Stuart Grozbean, said she would consider a buyout.
Mr. Baker said House lawmakers will press to change the Senate legislation so that Mrs. Metts can finish out the school year, rather than have her position dissolved June 1, to provide some continuity to the school system.
The legislation was spurred by an ongoing feud between the school board and Mrs. Metts. With 133,000 students, Prince George's County has the second-largest school system in the state, but students there fare worse on standardized tests than anywhere except Baltimore city.
House lawmakers from the county who opposed the legislation say it disenfranchises voters by taking away their say in the election of the school board.
A bill passed last week by the House had called for a hybrid of five elected board members and four appointees although some lawmakers opposed any appointees.
Opponents also blame a lack of funding and not the school board for lagging student performance.
The Senate proposal attempts to address that by calling for $20 million a year in state funding for Prince George's schools through 2007. It also requires the County Council to pass a phone tax that would provide at least $20 million more annually.
Before the vote, Delegate John A. Giannetti Jr., Prince George's/Howard Democrat, said the all-appointed board "may be a very, very bitter pill that we have to swallow to get the funding we need."
That wasn't enough to convince Delegate David M. Valderrama, the Prince George's Democrat who voted against the measure. "Except for the promise of money, this thing stinks," he said.
Some of the nine Prince George's County delegates who have fought the forcing out of the elected board had harsh words for their colleagues who have supported it.
"We have issues down here conflicts with the Senate and within the House but we haven't disbanded the Senate or the House," said Delegate Darren M. Swain, Democrat.
Delegate Carolyn J.B. Howard, Democrat, said that while the restructuring plan will cost taxpayers more in coming years, "in Prince George's County we're saying we're going to raise taxes on this year as well as next" with the mandate that the county impose a 5 percent to 8 percent telecommunications tax and dedicate the proceeds to operating county schools.
"Why are they forcing us to put a tax on our people when they should be saying to the state: 'What would you give us?'"
"The major issue is not the board, it's funding," said Delegate Kerry Hill, Democrat. "You want to judge our schools, give us full funding, then judge."

The Senate approved a vastly pared-down version of a Sunday deer hunting bill yesterday, amending it to ban the hunts in all but a handful of counties.
Deer hunters in Allegany, Garrett, Washington, Calvert, Charles, St. Mary's and Dorchester counties would be allowed to kill deer in the first Sunday of the firearms season.
A House leader said delegates are likely to accept the version.
The proposal designed to cull the state's burgeoning deer population would also extend the firearms season from 13 to 21 days.
Current state law bans Sunday hunting. The original bill would have opened three Sundays to hunting, except in select urban areas.
The House cut the number of Sundays back to one. And senators this week tacked on amendments to exempt their own counties, arguing their constituents don't want to hear gunshots even on one Sunday, a day for horseback riders, and outdoor enthusiasts shouldn't have to worry about being in the line of fire.
"We have a lot of deer in Carroll County and I'm for deer management," said Sen. Larry Haines, the Carroll Republican who successfully exempted his county from the bill on Wednesday. "[But] I certainly don't want hunters 30 feet from my back yard on Sundays."
Yesterday, senators added amendments exempting Worcester, Somerset, Wicomico, Caroline, Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne's, Talbot, Harford and Frederick counties.
Staff writer Margie Hyslop and Capital News Service contributed to this article.


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