- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. yesterday said Prince George's County public schools need to clean house by replacing the elected school board with an all-appointed panel for four years.
Mr. Miller, a Democrat who represents parts of Prince George's, Calvert and Anne Arundel counties, said a House proposal still being drafted, but expected to call for replacing three or four of the school board's nine elected members with appointed ones doesn't go far enough.
State lawmakers are frustrated that power struggles between the school board and Superintendent Iris T. Metts have detracted from efforts to improve county schools.
They already were looking at ways to force change in the board's membership when six of its nine members voted Saturday to fire the superintendent. A court order delayed Mrs. Metts' ouster for 45 days.
Before the school board acted, state legislators began working on measures to rein them in.
Mr. Miller said he will use all the powers of his office to get lawmakers behind a bill that is "neither window dressing, nor a Band-Aid" because the Prince George's County schools "can and will get worse unless action is taken."
Keeping the current school board in place allows the "catfighting" to continue, Mr. Miller said, even if a House proposal to create a control board that could override them succeeds.
The county's House delegation approved that bill Monday night by a 15-3 vote, including provisions that make it retroactive to Feb. 1, thereby allowing Mrs. Metts' termination to be overturned.
Regardless of whether Mrs. Metts stays, legislation to fix Prince George's schools, where standardized test scores are the second-lowest in Maryland, ought to be tied to extra funding to help with special needs and crowded classes, Mr. Miller said.
Delegate Rushern L. Baker III, a Democrat and chairman of the Prince George's House delegation, has advocated a board with some appointed members because he believes it can effect change and get consensus support, said his chief aide.
"We don't want the voting public to lose confidence in their leadership in Annapolis, it's not about taking away their right to choose," Baker aide Ramon Korionoff said yesterday.
Mr. Miller said "practical" considerations led him to believe the county needs an appointed school board.
Prince George's school board members are paid about $13,000 annually.
Mr. Miller said most qualified people don't want to spend the time and the money required to run a door-to-door or media campaign for a district or at-large school board seat in a county where the population is approaching 1 million.
The emergency control board bill slated to go before the House Ways and Means Committee tomorrow could provide a temporary solution and might get enough support to clear the Senate, but is "confusing some people," Mr. Miller said.
Several legislators including Mr. Miller and state Sen. Leo E. Green, Prince George's Democrat question whether the emergency measure and its retroactive provisions that could undo the firing of Mrs. Metts are constitutional.
Mr. Green said he has asked the state Attorney General's Office to determine whether the proposal would abrogate Mrs. Metts' right to appeal her firing to the state superintendent of schools.
Most Prince George's legislators agree on one point. They say remedies for their schools should parallel the 1977 deal the state made with Baltimore, which has the state's lowest standardized-test scores.
Baltimore schools got more than $254 million in extra state aid over five years for implementing reforms, including moving from an elected to an appointed school board.

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