- The Washington Times - Monday, May 12, 2003

Prince George’s County schools chief Iris T. Metts will soon end her four-year tenure in the midst of a steep budget deficit, questions about burgeoning enrollment and yet another school board accusing her of non-cooperation.

She is preparing to be succeeded by Andre Hornsby by June 1, nearly a month before her contract expires. But Mrs. Metts is still in the spotlight: The school board chided her last week for administering the Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills (CTBS) without first receiving its approval on funding.

“The board should have been told, but then communication was always one of Dr. Metts’ weak points,” said county PTA Chairman Howard Tutman.

School board President Beatrice Tignor did not return calls seeking comment. Athena Ware, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Metts, said she was not conducting any more interviews.

Critics have noted that Mrs. Metts is leaving the system and her $212,000-a-year job without a comprehensive plan to handle as many as 7,000 additional students expected to enroll in county schools by 2006.

Mr. Hornsby, who will make $250,000 a year, also will face the task of reconciling a nearly $30 million budget shortfall within a month of taking over because Mrs. Metts plans to leave early.

“Everybody is talking about the deficit, and Metts will leave before that is sorted out. … Now why would you have Hornsby walking into a mess he didn’t make?” said Doris Reed, chief of the county school administrators union.

The discord about the CTBS and the budget are the latest problems in Mrs. Metts’ contentious relationship with the school board. Three of her four years in the school system were marked by almost daily battles with the former elected school board, which often accused her of going behind its back on issues.

In February 2002, the board voted to end her contract without giving her the required 45-day notice. The state Board of Education rescinded that action and allowed Mrs. Metts to keep her job. Later, the General Assembly passed legislation that replaced the elected county school board with an appointed one.

Metts supporters have noted several of her successes, including the full-day kindergarten program she helped create and the mandatory summer school program, which remains alive despite funding problems.

Mrs. Metts, a former education secretary in Delaware, is also credited with breathing life into the county schools’ early intervention and reading recovery programs.

But parent activist Donna Beck said full-day kindergarten and summer school are not what people will remember when they look back on Mrs. Metts’ term.

“Her legacy will be she took down the board of education and created chaos in the county. That is the one thing she will be remembered for five years from now,” she said.

In an interview last year, Mrs. Metts told The Washington Times that opposition to her stemmed from the fact that she is a woman and she is tough. “We made tough decisions. We called it as we saw it. Whenever you rock the boat, you will always create enemies,” Mrs. Metts said.

Next month, Mrs. Metts will assume the job of chief education officer of Mosaica Education, a District-based charter-school management company.

Tomorrow, Mr. Hornsby will be formally introduced to the county and the press as Mrs. Metts’ successor. Several school system sources said he will take over the system then, even though he is slated to start June 1.

There is some uncertainty about whether Mrs. Metts’ aides, including Chief of Staff Franklin Rishel and Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Brown, will stay or leave with her.

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