- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2002

ANNAPOLIS If Prince George's Public Schools Superintendent Iris T. Metts decides to quit her position in the midst of her battle with the county school board, state Superintendent Nancy Grasmick would have to approve her replacement, according to a little-known provision of state law.
Assistant Attorney General Robert A. Zarnoch said the education article of the Maryland code states that a county school superintendent's appointment is not valid unless it is approved in writing by the state superintendent.
School board members across the state were shocked when they learned last week that Superintendent Nancy Grasmick could overturn the dismissal of a local superintendent.
Not everyone agrees with Mr. Zarnoch's interpretation.
Prince George's County school board Chairman Kenneth E. Johnson said yesterday that he believed the article empowers Mrs. Grasmick to certify only a candidate's qualifications not the school board's appointment.
If the attorney general is right, there may be doubts about the legality of Mrs. Metts' hiring, Mr. Johnson said.
"That might place some question around whether [Mrs. Metts] is really superintendent," said Mr. Johnson, who backed her firing in a 6-3 vote on Feb. 2. He said yesterday he'd look for Mrs. Grasmick's letter.
Some legislators, too, were surprised to learn the state superintendent has the last word on hiring as well as firing a local superintendent.
"It's probably a veto power that hasn't been used," said Mr. Zarnoch, who estimated the law has been on the books since about 1916.
Sen. Leo E. Green, Prince George's Democrat, argued yesterday that there is no need to install a control board with power to overturn the current school board's decisions because any replacement superintendent they choose can be vetoed by the state superintendent.
"She's going to be judge and jury on just about anything they do," Mr. Green said.
But Prince George's House delegation chairman Rushern L. Baker III said he believes Mr. Green and other senators, who decided not to take up the House bill until this afternoon, are stalling and that any delay is harmful.
"Suppose they appoint one and Dr. Grasmick disapproves it? What does that do to the school system?" Mr. Baker said.
He and other proponents of the House bill which would give a five-member executive committee authority to veto school board decisions on key personnel and contracts of $25,000 or more said they are worried about leaving any opportunity for the current school board to act rashly on other personnel or contract matters.
As an emergency measure, the control board bill would go into effect as soon as it is enacted. Three-fifths of the Senate would have to approve the measure for it to go to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who has said he will sign it.
County delegates said the Senate's inaction is holding up bills to change the school board.
Consensus was expected to grow around a plan to replace four of the board's nine elected members with appointed ones, but recent talk has turned to creating a board of five appointed and four elected members.
But elections aren't until November, and the only way state lawmakers could install a new county school board immediately is to create an all-appointed board, Mr. Baker said.
That is exactly what Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. a Democrat who represents Prince George's, Calvert and Anne Arundel counties wants to do, although many county lawmakers, including several with direct ties to the school system, oppose it.
"I'm concerned if we move too quickly on [the control board proposal] it will give the faint-of-heart room to wiggle out of the kind of restructuring that needs to take place," Mr. Miller told the county's Senate delegation yesterday.
"I'll go for appointed board for a short period two to three years if we get the [extra funding] we need," Mr. Green said.
"We have to have a tool to get the money."
Yesterday, the state attorney general's office issued an opinion that said the General Assembly, which created local school boards, retains wide authority to curb local school boards' powers.
As a creation of the General Assembly, the Prince George's county school board has no standing to challenge the constitutionality of the legislature's decision to restructure the board.

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