- The Washington Times - Monday, February 4, 2002

A judge issued a temporary injunction last night that delayed the firing of Prince George's County schools Superintendent Iris T. Metts.
The 10-day injunction was issued by Chief Circuit Judge William Missouri, who opened the courthouse in Upper Marlboro on a Sunday to hear the petition. The court decided that the school board had violated the terms of Mrs. Metts' contract by not giving her a 45-day notice before terminating her contract in a 6-3 vote on Saturday.
Board members Doyle Niemann, Bernard Phifer and Catherine Smith, who all voted against the firing, obtained the restraining order last night along with Mrs. Metts and members of the Management Oversight Panel appointed by the state to monitor the elected school board.
Mr. Niemann said he "fully expects" the majority of the board will comply with the restraining order. He said the order had bought them some time until state legislators could take action against the school board.
Mrs. Smith said Mrs. Metts was committed to staying with the school system until the end of her contract, which was to expire in 2003. She said the superintendent will be back at work in her office today.
"This is the right thing to do," Mrs. Smith said last night. "It would have been disastrous if Dr. Metts had to leave now. This relieves a lot of the tension."
Board members had said they would lock Mrs. Metts out of her office if she tried to return.
Board Chairman Kenneth E. Johnson is expected to give Mrs. Metts her 45-day notice today.
The board had earlier said it would announce an interim superintendent today. However, board member James E. Henderson said that after learning of the judge's decision, the announcement might be delayed.
As for Mrs. Metts' replacement, sources said Associate Superintendent for Human Resources Howard Burnett would be named acting superintendent until Jacqueline Brown, a Howard County administrator, could take the job of interim superintendent. Mr. Johnson was scheduled to hold talks with Mrs. Brown yesterday.
The board voted 6-3 to fire Mrs. Metts on Saturday, citing her inability to work with them and her failure to improve test scores, among other reasons.
Mrs. Metts, who attended services at two county churches yesterday morning, said it would be unprofessional of her to leave the school system without a transition. "I am still ready to make a good transition to the end of the school year. I will pursue all avenues to remain superintendent," she said.
State legislators, including county delegation leader, Delegate Rushern Baker, a Democrat, said they would file a bill today to create a crisis-management panel that would have to approve any school board action involving expenses of more than $25,000. This would prevent the board from hiring an interim superintendent.
Mr. Baker said the state delegation would meet this afternoon before filing the bill. A consensus appears to be growing in the legislature for an appointed board, with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller expressing sentiments in favor of such a plan.
Mrs. Metts continued with her scheduled activities yesterday. She said her attorney would file an appeal challenging her dismissal with the state Board of Education today.
"There are some legal questions surrounding the dismissal of the superintendent that are not in accordance with the state statute," she said.
Mrs. Metts' attorney, Stuart Grozbean, on Saturday had questioned the legality of the board's dismissal of the superintendent without first notifying the Management Oversight Panel. Mr. Johnson said, however, that the board did not require the panel's clearance to fire the superintendent.
Asked if she would return to work tomorrow, as she had earlier said she would, Mrs. Metts replied: "I would rather go back after the state superintendent clears the status." She added that Nancy L. Grasmick had summoned an emergency meeting of state board of education members.
Mr. Henderson, one of the six members who voted to fire Mrs. Metts, said it was such stubbornness on the superintendent's part, as well as her refusal to cooperate with the board, that had turned them against her.
"It proves to me we did the right thing by firing her," he said. He added that if Mrs. Metts tried to return to work tomorrow, as she earlier had declared she would, the board would lock her out.
After attending a church service at the First Baptist Church in North Brentwood yesterday, Mrs. Metts said she felt "blessed," "calm" and "at peace with myself."
She cited her successes with the school system over the past 21/2 years, including a revamping of the technology system, opening 11 new schools and changing school boundaries to end forced busing.
She said the board's disappointment with her over the drop in scores at the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests was not justified, because the county's drop was far lower compared with those in other school districts. "But their boards supported their superintendent," she said, adding that the board's attitude in Prince George's "is just not fair."
"I am honest, I am a good communicator, and I deal with people fairly," she said.
Speculation has arisen that Mrs. Metts' two top deputies, Franklin Rishel, deputy superintendent for instruction, and Kenneth Brown, associate superintendent for budget, will leave with her, although Mr. Johnson has said they are welcome to stay.
Mrs. Metts expressed concern over such a scenario, adding that it could create an unhealthy situation for the school system.
At a time when the school system was in the midst of tough budget negotiations, parents expressed concern over uncertainty about the schools' leadership. "If the two deputies leave, I would be very curious to know who the school board has in mind to oversee budget negotiations," said Judy Mickens-Murray, the county's PTA president.
Some members of a church Mrs. Metts attended said they did not believe she should go. "Iris Metts has done some very positive things for our schools. I don't want to see her go," said Lorraine Jones, a College Park resident who has a son in the county's public school system.

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