- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 11, 2002

Activists in Prince George's County began a drive to collect more than 19,000 signatures for a countywide referendum against a recently passed legislation replacing an elected school board with an appointed one.
The newly formed Citizens for an Elected Board began the drive Thursday night at the school administration's Sasscer Building in Upper Marlboro, despite questions about whether the referendum could be petitioned as a local one.
"Why shouldn't the people of Prince George's fight this? Why should the state board get the chance to appoint our school board members. This is contrary to every principle of our democracy," said group co-chairman Janis Hagey.
The activists must gather the required signatures by June 30 to call for a countywide referendum. A third of the signatures must be filed by May 30.
"It is a very ambitious plan but not impossible," said Robert Callahan of Bowie, who hopes the petition can buy the board a month's time so they can reconcile the budget by the June 30 deadline.
Some board members and citizens have said they are worried that a new board will not have enough time to study the budget.
The group's founders say they are certain of getting the required support. But while some county parents do not want an appointed board, they said they have adapted to the idea of change.
"The issue is very complex with the way the legislators devised the bill with money tied into it," said county PTA Vice President Howard Tutman.
The members passed a resolution on Thursday night supporting the referendum, discussing it publicly as a group for the first time since the bill was passed.
"This is not about me. This is about the right of the citizens who elected me," said board Chairman Kenneth Johnson, Mitchellville, in an impassioned speech.
Board member Doyle Niemann, Mount Rainier, is opposed to the resolution, calling it a "gigantic waste of time."
There is much debate over whether the petition will be able to move on. A letter from the Attorney General's Office last month said the referendum would have to be a statewide one. If that is true, the group pressing for the referendum would have to collect as many as 46,000 signatures.
David L. Cahn, co-chairman of the activist group, said the members are prepared to go to court on the issue. "There is no doubt in my mind that this is a local bill," he said.
The effort to appoint new board members, meanwhile, continues behind a veil of secrecy. This week, a board of education committee headed by Reginald Dunn started interviewing 30 possible candidates from among 150 applicants.
The board will meet in a closed session Wednesday to finalize the list to be sent to Gov. Parris N. Glendening and County Executive Wayne K. Curry, both Democrats, a Department of Education spokesman said yesterday.
Meanwhile, Superintendent Iris T. Metts said the atmosphere seems right for her to stay on. "I feel like we are going in the right direction."
And there appears to be several people on the list whom she could work with, she added.
Mrs. Metts said her contract with the school system continues beyond June 1 and she will remain an employee, despite a provision in the recent legislation that replaces the superintendent's position with a chief executive officer.
She said, however, that she has not made up her mind yet whether to apply for the new position.
"I am still going on other interviews and looking at other things," she said.



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