- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 11, 2003

State and county leaders, and parents say Prince George's County schools can start moving in a new direction now that Iris T. Metts is leaving after almost four tumultuous years of running the troubled system.
Mrs. Metts announced her resignation this weekend, effective in June.
"This was what was basically intended when the legislature changed the board," said Delegate Jim Hubbard, Prince George's Democrat. "There would be one year with the new board, and that board would go search for a new [chief executive]. Everyone down here agrees there is a need for new blood."
Mrs. Metts' departure "will be for the best in the long run," said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, Prince George's Democrat and leader of the county's Senate delegation. He said the board has to find someone who can understand the county "someone who is the right match … someone who is great, dynamic."
An appointed school board replaced the elected board in June after state lawmakers dissolved the body and Mrs. Metts' position as superintendent after years of fighting between the two. The new board rehired her as the school district's top administrator and gave her a one-year contract and an 8 percent raise, bringing her annual salary to $212,000.
Initially, conflict with the new board was confined to the backroom. But the relationship the school board and Mrs. Metts tried to portray in public disintegrated during the past six months as the schools chief continued to withhold information from the board, the same behavior that so frustrated the previous school board, school sources say.
About six months after rehiring Mrs. Metts, the board hired the Maryland Association of Boards of Education to conduct a national search for a chief executive. Board members insisted publicly that they would consider Mrs. Metts, who had expressed interest in the job but withdrew her candidacy.
But school sources told The Washington Times last month that seven of the nine board members would not back Mrs. Metts' reappointment, and some county officials speculated that she realized it and decided to accept a new job.
Mrs. Metts' attorney, Stuart Grozbean, said yesterday that she had decided to withdraw her application because a "spectacular opportunity" had presented itself.
"She is not going to abandon the county or students," he said. "She has helped the county, and now she wants to move on. She had some opportunities that came available that were of such a nature that she had to seriously consider her options."
Mr. Grozbean said Mrs. Metts would be working for a national education group but refused to divulge any details, adding only that she had accepted their terms and was waiting for the group to make the announcement about her hiring.
Many leaders and residents said they understood how difficult the top schools job is, given the politicized environment and a chronic shortage of money.
Delegate Doyle L. Niemann, Prince George's Democrat and a former school board member who staunchly supported Mrs. Metts during her long-running feud with the rest of the elected board, said yesterday that he could understand why Mrs. Metts wanted to leave and that her replacement would face similar challenges.
"It is one of the hardest of all possible jobs. … It is like running a Fortune 500 corporation and everybody is always picking at you," he said. "There are people who in the short term will cheer and who will like it. But there is no guarantee that they will like the new superintendent any better than they liked her. The minute the new superintendent fires a principal, the union will be after her. … The minute she makes a boundary change or makes a change in the magnet program, parents will object."
During the past few months, Mrs. Metts has been criticized after the first Maryland High School Assessments ranked Prince George's high school students near the bottom, higher than only Baltimore in the state. County leaders were outraged to learn of a $13.6 million school deficit in the fiscal 2002 budget that she had predicted would be around $7 million and a budget shortfall of $4 million in the current year's budget. And many scoffed at her $1.36 billion budget proposal that requests a 23 percent increase in funding to the schools. Traditional increases around the region are less than 10 percent.
Parents and county leaders hope the change will propel the county into higher school achievement.
"It is time for a fresh start," said Howard Tutman, president of the County Council of PTAs. "But it is also one more distraction. Hopefully we will get a qualified superintendent that will bring stability to the school system."
The school board is working to oblige.
The board met last week to consider the candidates and is expected to open the process to the public in March. A decision is expected by April.

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