- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 9, 2002

ANNAPOLIS The elected school board of Prince George's County will be replaced by an all-appointed panel June 1 and Superintendent Iris T. Metts' job will be abolished under a bill the General Assembly approved late yesterday.
Prince George's delegates accused senators of ramming the measure through at the insistence of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Democrat who represents the county.
Mr. Miller who was the first to advocate an all-appointed school board wields enormous power as the Senate's presiding officer. He also took the unusual step of appointing himself to the conference committee to work out differences with a House of Delegates proposal that would have created a new board with four appointed and five elected members.
But the Senate delayed action on the House proposal until April 1, when county senators rewrote the measure to create an all-appointed board, to replace the superintendent with a chief executive officer, and to force the county to implement a telephone tax of at least 5 percent to help pay for school expenses.
Because millions of dollars in school funding were tied to the bill, Prince George's lawmakers said it was difficult to vote against.
The county would return to an elected school board in the fall of 2006.
Prince George's House delegation Chairman Rushern L. Baker III said the House wanted to ensure that the majority view of the delegation was represented, and that doing so would be difficult for a local lawmaker since divisions were deep and personal positions strongly held.
At least one delegate who otherwise backed the bill was so upset by the telephone tax that she voted against the bill, which passed 85-44 in the House, with 11 members not voting.
"I'm extremely opposed to the telephone tax and will introduce legislation if I'm re-elected next year to ameliorate terrible parts of the telephone tax," said Delegate Anne Healey, Prince George's Democrat.
Seven of the 21 Prince George's delegates opposed the bill in the House, including two lawmakers employed by the school system.
Prince George's House delegation Vice Chairman Barbara Frush said it is time for county residents who have voted to retain the cap on property taxes to do more for their schools.
"For years, I've heard from my colleagues, 'When is Prince George's County going to step up to the plate and fund their schools on a local level?' That's what this is doing," said Mrs. Frush, Democrat.
The Senate approved the measure 45-0. Sen. Nathaniel Exum, Prince George's Democrat, did not vote, although he had passionately opposed the bill and voted against it before it went to conference.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening said he will sign the bill.
Delegate Darren Swain called the conference-committee outcome and the ouster of the elected board "a travesty."
"Senate President Mike Miller was the first to say he wanted an all-appointed board, and the other senators didn't have the backbone to stand up to him," said Mr. Swain, Prince George's Democrat.
"What I resent is that we did not get a chance to sit down as a delegation and debate we had it shoved down our throats in the last hours," said Delegate Brian R. Moe, Prince George's Democrat.
The conference committee report also directs the new school board to consider creating a Spanish-immersion program for 450 students and provide a program for disruptive and delinquent students in grades six through 12, perhaps outside regular schools, to improve their reading and math skills.
The mandated reforms 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 improved slightly, then dipped again since Mrs. Metts was hired three years ago, and remain the second-worst in the state.
The Senate revisions created a bill not to placate the current board or Mrs. Metts, but to ensure funding needed to improve the schools as well as management reforms, said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a Democrat and chairman of the county's Senate delegation.
"At this point, it is a necessity for the board to go," said Doyle Niemann, board member from Mount Rainier, who stood behind Mrs. Metts during the board's attempt to oust her.
He said he did have some worries about the transition to an appointed board, but believed the new board should keep Mrs. Metts on until after they had settled in.
The bill allows the new board to hire an interim administrator who could be Mrs. Metts until a new CEO is found.
The new board is supposed to select a CEO by July 1, but that may not give them enough time.
Mrs. Metts' attorney, Stuart Grozbean, said the state could not cancel her contract and would have to, at least, buy her out.
But Mr. Grozbean said he won't know Mrs. Metts' next move until he has a chance to discuss it with her today.
Vaishali Honawar contributed to this article.


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