- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Prince George's County, Md. residents and some lawmakers voiced opposition yesterday to a proposal that would allow three members of the county school board to be appointed instead of elected.
The plan calls for three of the nine board members to be appointed by the governor and the county executive, while the remaining six would be elected. All nine are currently elected.
The proposal has the support of Delegate Rushern L. Baker III, the Democratic chairman of the county delegation. However, other lawmakers say the appointed board members would be more accountable to those who appointed them than to county residents.
"I represent a district whose citizens are predominantly black," said Delegate Carolyn Howard, Prince George's Democrat. "Black Americans fought a long, hard battle to win the right to vote, and I will not stand by while my constituents are in danger of losing this right."
The clash occurred on the first day of the 2002 General Assembly, as lawmakers considered ways to improve the poor performance of schools in Prince George's County, the largest school district in the state and one of the most troubled.
Only the city of Baltimore ranks lower on standardized test scores.
Michael Hill, a father of two who lives in Fort Washington, said the appointment of school board members would "deny or weaken my voice in decisions about my children's education."
"I think legislators should find ways to get parents involved more, not less," Mr. Hill said.
Delegate Joanne Benson, Prince George's Democrat, said the school board proposal does not address the central issue.
"The root of the problem is we don't have enough money to educate our children," she said.
Mr. Hill echoed that concern, describing conditions at Oxon Hill High School, where his 16-year-old son is a junior.
Mr. Hill said the school gym has been shut down because a leaking roof caused the floor to buckle forcing school sports teams and the marching band to scramble for venues. He also said the school built for 1,700 students now has 2,700 students.
State Sen. Paul Pinsky, Prince George's Democrat, agreed that county schools need more funding. But he pointed to a series of recent, highly publicized incidents involving the board that he said may hinder the state's confidence in expanding funding.
In one case, the board tried to force several deputies of Superintendent Iris T. Metts to relinquish thousands of dollars in bonuses they received last year. Board members have also been criticized for misusing county expense accounts.
"I think there's a feeling that the current board has not provided the leadership and the cohesiveness that the county needs," Mr. Pinsky said.
A similar effort to restructure the school board died last year in the General Assembly.

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