- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Supporters of an emergency bill to strip the Prince George's County school board of some of its power implored lawmakers yesterday to pass the measure, describing it as a quick way to address the "unstoppable meltdown" in school leadership.

The bill calls for the establishment of a five-member oversight panel with veto power over the county school board on major personnel decisions and expenditures of more than $25,000.

The school board and Superintendent Iris T. Metts have feuded publicly over the past few months over issues including bonuses for Mrs. Metts' deputies, authority over spending and even where Mrs. Metts sits at regular board meetings.

The board voted on Saturday to fire Mrs. Metts, but a circuit judge ruled Sunday that her contract required the board to give her at least 45 calendar days' notice of firing.

"I think I speak for most of my colleagues when I say I refuse to stand by silently while the [school] board acts like the band on the Titanic" playing while the ship goes down, Delegate Rushern L. Baker Jr., chairman of the Prince George's County House delegation, told the House Ways and Means Committee yesterday.

The legislation is supported overwhelmingly by Prince George's County's House delegation, as well as Gov. Parris N. Glendening. As an emergency bill, it would take effect immediately after it is signed by the governor.

County Executive Wayne K. Curry told lawmakers he has appealed to them for three years for changes in the governance of the county's school system. He said he is not surprised by the situation, but it is now "careening totally out of control."

Mr. Curry and Mr. Baker said passing the measure now would give lawmakers time to consider proposals later in the legislative session to restructure the school board.

County Council member Isaac Gourdine was the only person to testify in opposition to the bill, saying the board had a bad relationship with Mrs. Metts and should have fired her long ago.

Mr. Gourdine, Fort Washington Democrat, also accused politicians of using the crisis for their own political gains, "climbing up the political ladder on the backs of our children," while undercutting county residents' role in electing the board.

"This bill is disenfranchising our elected school board through the back door," Mr. Gourdine said.

If passed, the legislation would give the newly established panel authority to review all school board decisions dating back to Feb. 2, the day the school board voted to fire Mrs. Metts.

After the Ways and Means Committee, it would be considered by the full House, followed by the Senate. As an emergency measure, it would require a three-fifths vote in both houses of the General Assembly.

The Maryland State Board of Education plans a special session Monday to discuss the firing.

Mrs. Metts has appealed that move, saying the county board should have consulted state Superintendent Nancy L. Grasmick before dismissing her.

At a regularly scheduled meeting of the school board last night, several parents took members to task for their treatment of Mrs. Metts.

Theresa Dudley said she had taken last Friday off from work to lobby lawmakers in Annapolis to keep an elected school board. But she felt betrayed when she woke the next day to learn that the board wanted to fire Mrs. Metts.

"You have embarrassed me as a citizen, as a teacher and everyone else in this county," she told board members. "You need to be sent to the woodshed to come up with a solution."

Board member Angie Como said the dispute has covered up the real problem that schools aren't performing well under Mrs. Metts' leadership. She cited lower standardized test scores and funding problems.

"Our system has been in chaos since Dr. Metts came here," she said.

Mrs. Metts defended the job she had done and emphasized to the board that other school districts haven't blamed their superintendents for lower test scores.

Republican lawmakers will ask the General Assembly to set up a commission to look for ways to cut state spending so there will be no need to increase taxes.

House Minority Leader Alfred W. Redmer Jr., Baltimore Republican, said yesterday that the first goal of the commission on efficiency in government would be to get rid of services the state shouldn't be providing in the first place.

The commission also would look for ways that state agencies can be more efficient in providing necessary services.

Republicans say their plan is an alternative to a proposal by the Democratic leadership to set up a commission to study the state's future revenues and spending needs. Mr. Redmer said that type of commission would result in higher taxes.

All Maryland counties would have to provide full-day kindergarten classes under legislation introduced yesterday in the House of Delegates.

The bill by Delegate Mark Shriver, Montgomery County Democrat, would give school boards five years to comply with the law. It also would require the state to provide funds for all-day kindergartens as well as half-day programs for prekindergarten students.

A delegate has proposed legislation to add a new category to the list of crimes that are eligible for the death penalty.

The bill introduced yesterday by Delegate Anthony J. O'Donnell, St. Mary's Republican, would extend the death penalty to include a murder performed by someone who was under a court order to stay away from a spouse or girlfriend.

A bill introduced in the House of Delegates would make it easier for Marylanders to keep an eye on relatives who are living in nursing homes.

The bill, sponsored by Delegate Sue Hecht, Frederick County Democrat, would require nursing homes to allow a patient or the patient's guardian to install a video camera or other monitoring device in the room to make sure nursing home employees aren't mistreating the patient.

More than one-third of the state's delegates are listed as co-sponsors of legislation that would allow marijuana to be used for medical purposes.

A bill will be introduced today by Delegate Donald E. Murphy, Baltimore County Republican, that would eliminate criminal penalties for people who use marijuana on the recommendation of a doctor. It is the third time he has introduced the bill.

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