- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2002

The Maryland State Board of Education yesterday overturned the Prince George's County school board's Feb. 2 decision to fire Superintendent Iris T. Metts, saying she could go back to work with no break in service.
The 12-member state board voted unanimously to reinstate the superintendent, holding that the county school board did not have a right to fire her.
"The board acted illegally," said Marilyn Maultsby, president of the state Board of Education. "Only the state superintendent has the authority to terminate her."
"It is ordered that the motion to terminate Dr. Iris T. Metts from her position as superintendent of Schools for Prince George's County is hereby reversed, and it is further ordered that Dr. Iris T. Metts is hereby reinstated to her position with no break in service," Mrs. Maultsby said after a closed session of the board where it heard from lawyers on both sides at a special meeting in its Baltimore office.
Mrs. Metts was exhilarated at hearing the news and said she needed to take a deep breath, according to her attorney Stuart Grozbean. Mrs. Metts left without comment as the board's decision was announced to the press.
During the hourlong hearing at the board's Baltimore office, Mr. Grozbean, Tim Maloney, attorney for the three board members who support Mrs. Metts, and Andrew Nussbaum, attorney for the county board, made 20-minute arguments. Mr. Nussbaum argued that the state Board of Education did not have jurisdiction to hear a dispute between the county board and the superintendent.
Kenneth E. Johnson, county board president, said the school board had interpreted the exact state statute when it fired Mrs. Metts, who was hired in 1999. He said that he was disappointed with the state board's decision, and that the county board would continue to fight to remove the superintendent.
State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said the provision that only the state superintendent can fire can a county superintendent has existed for many years.
"I can't presume what was in the heads of the people who crafted this [the state statute]," she said, adding that she has seen instances in the past where school boards and superintendents had not enjoyed a cordial relationship, but had managed to work around it.
Many state lawmakers from Prince George's have declared the situation a crisis and this week sent to the House floor an emergency bill that would create a control board over the current school board. The five-member panel could veto school board decisions on key personnel and on contracts of $25,000 or more. They also could hire personnel if the board fails to select a candidate they approve.
Other emergency legislation on its way to House committees would replace the elected school board with appointed members, would require restructuring of the school board to go to referendum, would create a chief financial officer and inspector general and would give the school board taxing authority.
Last night two groups, opposing moves by state lawmakers to upend Prince George's County's elected school board, staged protests at the State House in Annapolis.
County Council members Thomas Hendershot and Tom Dernoga, both Democrats, joined residents and students to urge legislators not to approve bills that would establish an appointed board.
Another group protested a bill before the House this week that would create a control board that could veto school board decisions and act in its stead as well as any move to an appointed board.
Concerns about angry protesters led a lawmaker to call for a police escort for Delegate Rushern L. Baker III, a Democrat and chairman of the Prince George's delegation.
Some of the 60 persons who had attended a protest rally shouted at Mr. Baker as he walked toward the House office building about 8:40 p.m. after leaving a session at the State House. The rally was heated and had also drawn police.
"If we don't want a current school board it is up to us to either recall them or vote them out," said Theresa Dudley of Lanham at the rally. "I know we have been watching the antics going on in Upper Marlboro and I am tired of them, but I am not so tired that I am willing to give up my right to vote."
When activist Zalee Harris, who supports an elected board, said that Mrs. Metts "should have been fired because she can't reconcile her budget," organizers insisted that she stick to the elected school board issue, but they were shouted down with cries of "let her finish."
Later David L. Cahn, a lawyer from Upper Marlboro, said the dispute isn't about Mrs. Metts but about political power.
"They wouldn't dare try anything like this anywhere but Baltimore or Prince George's County" where most of the population is black, Mr. Cahn, who is white, said.
Board members opposed to Mrs. Metts say she has caused a bleeding of top administrators and principals, has refused to work with the board, and awarded $1.9 million worth of contracts to five churches for the county's Head Start program, without notifying the board. During its Jan. 24 meeting, the board passed a resolution barring the superintendent from signing any contracts worth more than $5,000.
After battling over these issues and cuts in school funds, dropping scores on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, bonuses awarded to four of Mrs. Metts' top deputies, the board fired Mrs. Metts on a resolution that passed 6-3.
The next day, Mr. Grozbean, and the three board members who support Mrs. Metts Doyle Niemann, Mount Rainier; Catherine Smith, Cheverly, and Bernard Phifer, Hillcrest Heights got a court order that imposed a 10-day stay on the resolution because the board had failed to give a 45-day notice, as required in her contract.

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