- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2002

The Prince George's County Board of Education voted 6-3 last night to fire Superintendent Iris T. Metts.
Mrs. Metts, 59, was asked to leave tomorrow, 2-1/2 years into her four-year contract. She would not be given the 45-day notice required under her contract.
Negotiations for a resignation package broke down earlier in the day.
Mrs. Metts said in a statement that she would appeal the decision to state Superintendent Nancy Grasmick and that she planned to return to work Tuesday. She said Mrs. Grasmick planned to call an emergency meeting of the state education board to consider her situation.
The board yesterday authorized Chairman Kenneth E. Johnson to hold discussions today with Jacqueline Brown, a school administrator in Howard County, about replacing Mrs. Metts, a school-board member said.
"The board decided we have waited long enough. We need to put an end to this madness," Mr. Johnson said of the firing.
He cited several problems with Mrs. Metts' administration, including a drop for three consecutive years in scores on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program. Mr. Johnson also mentioned problems such as employees leaving the district in large numbers and the superintendent's refusal to communicate with the board.
The board recently passed a resolution that stripped Mrs. Metts of the power to sign any contracts exceeding $5,000 a move she warned would paralyze the school system.
Mrs. Metts, whose annual salary is $196,000, will receive pay for the 45 days of her notice period and for an additional 60 days, plus $2,000, he said.
An interim superintendent will be announced tomorrow morning, Mr. Johnson said.
Mrs. Metts, who appeared visibly upset, described the firing as "a very unusual situation." Asked if she was hurt by the board's action, she said, "You feel that way when you give your best and are not appreciated."
When the decision was announced at a press conference, about 20 of her supporters booed and tried to drown out Mr. Johnson's comments. Others, who carried placards calling for her ouster, applauded.
Paul G. Pinsky, Prince George's Democrat and chairman of the county's Senate delegation, said the school board violated statutory responsibility by not having the state's Management Oversight Panel review its decision to fire Mrs. Metts before taking action. He said he had consulted with state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. about the law. Unfortunately, Mr. Pinsky said, it has no teeth.
"It seems they're oblivious from any statutory or moral responsibility," he said.
Prince George's legislators plan to file a bill tomorrow that would create a "crisis management panel" that would have to approve any school board action involving expenditures of, perhaps, $25,000, said Ramon Korionoff, chief aide to Delegate Rushern L. Baker III, county House delegation chairman.
Legislators want to prevent the board from hiring an interim superintendent. Such a fiscal restriction would effectively accomplish that.
State and local leaders are expected to decide details at a meeting today before the Super Bowl. The panel likely would have as many as five members appointed by the governor, county executive, county council, expert advisers and the state superintendent of schools. One member might be chosen from the Management Oversight Panel.
The firing came after a 50-minute closed session of the board at the school system's administrative building in Upper Marlboro. It followed negotiations involving Mrs. Metts; her attorney, Stuart Grozbean; Mr. Johnson; and board attorney Andrew Nussbaum. They met for more than five hours at the Four Points Sheraton in Northwest. Mr. Johnson said Mrs. Metts and her attorney rejected a buyout offer of $169,000.
Mr. Grozbean said the board chairman wanted Mrs. Metts to leave right away, but Mrs. Metts wanted an "orderly transition."
"Dr. Metts has given a commitment that she will not leave the school district and her supporters high and dry," he said.
School board member Doyle Niemann, District 3, voted against the resolution to fire Mrs. Metts. The other board opponents were Catherine Smith, District 4, and Bernard Phifer, District 8. "My advice to the superintendent is, she is still the superintendent and should stay in office," Mr. Niemann said.
Mrs. Metts, who had served as secretary of education in Delaware, was brought into the Prince George's school system to raise test scores and attract teachers. Her supporters say that during her tenure the schools system has seen increases in test scores for the Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills and has received much-needed funds from the county and state.
But the board and the superintendent have clashed publicly several times. The biggest disputes involved bonuses she awarded to her four top deputies last year without board approval, cuts in funds for schools and the establishment of a military academy at Forestville High School.
"Vital information from the administration to the board has decreased significantly during the tenure of this administration," said Marilynn Bland, a member from District 9. "Clearly, the action taken today is crucial to the future success of our school system."
Sources said that if Mrs. Brown could not start work today, Associate Superintendent for Human Resources Howard Burnett would take over the reins until she was available.
Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Franklin Rishel and Associate Superintendent for Budget Kenneth Brown, who came with Mrs. Metts from Delaware, are expected to leave with her, although Mr. Johnson said they are welcome to stay.
Margie Hyslop contributed to this report


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