- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2002

The Maryland House yesterday voted 94-29 to strip the Prince George's County school board of most of its authority to oversee the county's struggling public schools.
The action on the measure one of several plans to disenfranchise the current elected school board sends the bill to the county's Senate delegation, which may alter some provisions when it considers the bill Tuesday.
Delegate Rushern L. Baker III, chairman of the county's House delegation, and his counterpart in the upper chamber, Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, both Democrats, are working to craft a bill that can clear both houses over protests that it is an inappropriate power grab by one elected body over another.
The bill would create an appointed five-member committee that could overturn the county school board's decisions on key personnel and contracts of $25,000 or more. The control committee would remain in place until December, after the next election.
Fifteen delegates representing Prince George's voted for the bill; five voted against it.
"If you can't vote [against] this because it sets a bad precedent, vote against it because it has become totally, absolutely unnecessary, because we've found out the state board has total power over the local board," said Delegate David M. Valderamma, Prince George's Democrat, referring to the school board's ruling Monday that Iris T. Metts and other local school superintendents cannot be fired without the approval of the state superintendent.
House Minority Whip James F. Ports Jr., Baltimore County Republican, led 20 GOP delegates in opposing the bill, which he said "tears apart the very fabric of our electoral system and throws principle out the window in the interest of expediency."
House Appropriations Chairman Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat and ally of Mr. Baker on the issue, said the bill is an intervention needed to fulfill the state's "constitutional responsibility to guarantee a fair and efficient system of public schools."
Mr. Baker invoked his duty as a parent and lawmaker.
"I marvel at the fact that every morning I get up … and I gamble … with the lives of my children," Mr. Baker said.
"You want our reforms to slow down; I want them to speed up … . We will do what we can to make sure that 134,000 children don't suffer a mis-education," he said.
As an emergency measure, it must win a three-fifths majority in both the House and Senate to become law.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. a Democrat who represents Prince George's, Calvert and Anne Arundel counties has said he supports the control committee.
But Mr. Miller said he does not believe replacing the nine-member elected board with a hybrid such as the five-elected, four-appointed model being touted as a compromise would go far enough to reform Prince George's schools, ranked second-worst in the state.
Mr. Miller has advocated an all-appointed board.
"We need a board that is not concerned about pay we need philanthropists, African-American entrepreneurs, and people who understand the problems and needs of public education and who realize it's a great equalizer," Mr. Miller said.
Also, a circuit court judge yesterday extended by 10 days an injunction that would keep the county board from firing Mrs. Metts.
There had been speculation that board members might try to suspend her, and some board members had said they might try to put her on administrative leave over the next few days.
But members including Chairman Kenneth E. Johnson, who voted to fire her say they cannot do so since the state Board of Education reinstated her as superintendent on Monday.
The injunction was just a safeguard against any future board action against the superintendent, said board member Doyle Niemann of Mount Rainier, who filed for the injunction and the extension along with members Catherine Smith of Cheverly and Bernard Phifer of Hillcrest Heights.
Mrs. Metts and the state-appointed Management Oversight Panel, which oversees the board, were also parties to the injunction, which was granted by Circuit Court Judge William Missouri.
"It is a precaution to keep from having to fight all over again," Mr. Niemann said.
About the state legislators' move to put in place a control board overseeing the school board, he said it was important that such a step be taken.
"The ability of the board to function at this point is in serious question," he said, adding that relations between board members were "very tense."
"The board is not functioning in a coherent fashion" at a time when it needs to come out with its budget, he said.
Other board members, however, expressed disappointment over the passage of the bill in the House.
"I am disappointed … the real issue is being overlooked here," said Robert Callahan of Bowie.
He also said that it was upsetting that elected officials in the legislature were trying to rob elected school board members of their powers.
"I don't think they would be too happy if someone was to appoint a board to oversee them," he said.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide