- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2002

A Prince George's County school board member is calling on county residents to protest state legislators' plans to strip the board of its authority, calling the plans a "blatant attack on democracy."
The Maryland General Assembly is considering a bill that would call for establishing an executive committee with the power to veto major personnel actions or contracts of more than $25,000 that the school board proposes.
Another bill would restructure the nine-member board to make three to four of the positions appointed, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. has advocated creating an all-appointed board.
"I am appalled that any elected body would strip away the powers of any other elected body," said James E. Henderson, one of six school board members who voted to oust Superintendent Iris T. Metts.
"The citizens of Prince George's County should be really upset. Right now they may be in shock about what has happened, but they need to speak up," he said.
Instead of restructuring the board, Mr. Henderson said, legislators should conduct audits, for instance, to ensure that money is being spent properly.
The legislation came in response to the board's 6-3 vote Saturday to fire Mrs. Metts. On Sunday, a judge issued a temporary injunction that delayed the firing, ruling that the school board had violated the terms of Mrs. Metts' contract by not giving her a 45-day notice. Mrs. Metts, who wants to stay until her contract expires next year, has appealed the board's vote.
The board most likely will plan its next move at tomorrow's scheduled meeting. Sources say that, among other things, board members might consider putting Mrs. Metts on administrative leave after a 10-day court stay on her firing expires.
Board members have spoken about countering efforts to create an oversight panel. Board member Robert J. Callahan, who voted to fire Mrs. Metts, said that if the oversight bill goes through, the board may consider fighting it in court.
"This is not such a major crisis that the state should be weighing in on it," Mr. Callahan said.
Meanwhile, Ron Peiffer, assistant superintendent of the Maryland Board of Education, said yesterday that the board had received Mrs. Metts' appeal and would set up a meeting in the next couple of days to hear arguments from Mrs. Metts and the Prince George's County school board.
The board voted to fire Mrs. Metts on Saturday after negotiations to buy out her contract failed. Board members opposed to Mrs. Metts cited a drop for three consecutive years in scores on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program and problems such as employees leaving the district in large numbers and the superintendent's reputed refusal to communicate with the board.
The board recently passed a resolution that stripped Mrs. Metts of the power to sign contracts exceeding $5,000, a move she said would paralyze the school system.
Since coming to Prince George's County 21/2 years ago from Delaware, where she was the state's secretary of education, Mrs. Metts has been dogged by disputes with the school board.
The biggest 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.
In response, last year the board gave Mrs. Metts a poor evaluation, denying her a $30,000 bonus on top of her $196,000 salary.
Mrs. Metts' supporters say that during her tenure the school 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.
The Interfaith Action Communities, a countywide alliance of religious groups, yesterday demonstrated in front of the school board office in Upper Marlboro to voice their support for Mrs. Metts. The superintendent signed contracts with five of the IAC's churches, for a total of $1.9 million, for the county's Head Start program.
Howard Tutman, vice president of the county's PTA, called the situation a "big distraction."
He said he hasn't taken sides in the feud but worries that the end result will be another level of bureaucracy that saps resources that should be going to schools and separates parents from involvement in their children's education.
"The big picture is getting money for the schools," he said. "The small picture is what's going on here. And it could cause us to lose voting rights for our schools."
Mr. Tutman also said students are aware of the dispute and that Mrs. Metts's defiance of the board sets a "bad example."
At Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt yesterday, a sign posted in a classroom read: "Seniors: 66 days to go. Metts: 43 days to go."
Celeste Williams, president of the Prince George's Educators Association, thought the board should be "professional and respectful" and allow Mrs. Metts to finish her term, which ends July 2003.
Mrs. Williams said the flow of experienced teachers out of the county and into the surrounding jurisdictions is likely to grow worse with an abrupt change at the executive level.
"We definitely feel that she should not be removed at this point in time because it is causing too much disruption to students, staff and the educators," she said.


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