- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2002

ANNAPOLIS A committee of Prince George's County state delegates yesterday began considering a proposal that would replace the current school board with five elected and four appointed members.
Sources said the proposal presented to the County Affairs Committee yesterday by Delegate James W. Hubbard, Prince George's Democrat looks like a blueprint for consensus with the Senate.
Mr. Hubbard's proposal rewrites an emergency bill that would have preserved an elected board but would have dissolved the nine districts from which school board members are elected now and created five district and four at-large seats.
His substitute plan would put the five elected seats on the ballot in November and would have the county executive and the governor jointly appoint four members. Those members would have to be county residents and would serve no more than two four-year terms.
The county executive and governor would select one of the appointed members to be chairman, and they also would appoint a chief financial officer, who would be responsible for daily management and fiscal oversight.
Mr. Hubbard's proposal seeks to tie a five-year plan for extra funding to the changes, mirroring the deal Baltimore city schools struck with the General Assembly in 1997 for restructuring and management reforms.
The bill also would limit school board members to $4,000 annually in reimbursements for travel expenses.
The measures were introduced when the Prince George's County school board fired Superintendent Iris T. Metts by a 6-3 vote on Feb. 2. Mrs. Metts was back in office immediately after getting a 10-day injunction against the resolution to fire her. A circuit court judge ruled that the resolution was illegal because it did not give her a 45-day notice required under her contract. Mrs. Metts was reinstated by the state Board of Education Monday.
Late yesterday, Delegate James F. Ports Jr., House minority whip and a Baltimore County Republican, said he will offer a bill to ensure that local school boards have the right to fire as well as hire their school superintendent.
"If the local school boards don't have the authority to hire and fire they don't have any control over the superintendent," Mr. Ports said.
Earlier, several Democratic House members expressed similar sentiments but said such a bill would have little chance now because the filing deadline has passed and the bill would have to clear the Rules Committee.
"It's just ludicrous," said Delegate Obie Patterson, Prince George's Democrat, adding that the law needs to be changed, "if not this time next session, rest assured."
Delegate Clarence Davis, Baltimore Democrat, agreed.
"How can they be a school board if they don't have the power to fire? This is insanity," Mr. Davis said.
Many school boards thought they had that power until the state school board's ruling that the state superintendent had the final say.
Meanwhile, Prince George's County school board members met last night for a budget work session.
Chairman Kenneth E. Johnson would not elaborate on what kind of action the board was considering, but said it certainly was not to place the superintendent on administrative leave, as has been suggested by some other board members.
"We couldn't do that now, after the state ruling to reinstate her," Mr. Johnson said.
Other options that have been considered, according to sources, include appealing the state board decision in a court of law, and an appeal to state Superintendent Nancy E. Grasmick, asking her to fire Mrs. Metts because of her inability to work with the board and to raise test scores.
Board member James E. Henderson of Suitland said he would recommend to the board an anonymous climate survey asking administrators and staff about their feelings. Such a survey would have to be authorized by the board.
"I am worried that morale right now is low and that [Mrs. Metts] may retaliate against the people who opposed her. I am worried that shouldn't happen," he said.
Mrs. Metts, meanwhile, met yesterday evening with county administrators and principals to thank them for their work.
School administrators' union chief Doris Reed, who has criticized Mrs. Metts in the past for cutting funds for schools and treating principals poorly, said she hoped Mrs. Metts would use her power to improve the state of the schools system.
Ms. Reed has in the past accused the superintendent of terrorizing employees and threatening them with retaliation.
"Dr. Metts has been given a second chance, and we hope she will be considerate of her employees," Ms. Reed said. "We hope she will use her power for good."

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