- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 25, 2005

The change from an appointed school board to an elected one in Prince George’s County next year will be a drawback for candidates interested in the superintendent job, says D.C. Public Schools Superintendent Clifford B. Janey.

“I think [prospective superintendents] would be deeply concerned about the turnover of the board with respect to how it is governed, appointed versus elected,” Mr. Janey said.

Mr. Janey took the superintendent’s office last summer. Though the school system had many of the same problems as neighboring Prince George’s County, including low test scores and underachieving minority students, Mr. Janey said he was confident D.C. leaders would offer the political support needed to make improvements.

However, he and other educational professionals are unsure about whether the new leader of Prince George’s County public schools will have the same situation.

“When you go out in the marketplace, one of the things a superintendent is looking for is stability,” said Stephen C. Joel of McPherson & Jacobson LLC, a Nebraska-based headhunting firm specializing in national searches for school superintendents.

The Prince George’s County appointed school board that will likely hire a superintendent to succeed former schools Chief Executive Officer Andre J. Hornsby will be replaced by an elected board in November 2006, just months after the expected 12-month search will be completed.

Mr. Janey also emphasized that a superintendent chief is just half the equation for fixing the system. “The other half … is getting a board poised for success as an elected body,” he said.

However, county school officials plan to conduct business as usual.

“Inside we are not doing anything differently because there is going to be an elected school board next year,” said Kelly Alexander, school system spokeswoman. “We still have 18 months under this school board.”

The upcoming school-board election will mark the third reinvention of the board in six years. The previously elected county Board of Education was deemed dysfunctional and disbanded in 2000, replaced with members appointed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening and County Executive Wayne K. Curry.

That Prince George’s 136,000-student district has had two chief executive officers and two acting superintendents in the past six years could also deter candidates.

Mr. Hornsby held the job for two years before resigning last month amid an FBI investigation and in advance of an independent audit that showed he mishandled school funds, specifically awarding a $1 million contract to a company that employed his live-in girlfriend and giving another contract to a firm to which he had ties.

His predecessor, Iris T. Metts, lasted a little more than two years before she was fired by the school board and blamed for the deterioration of the school system.

Still, the prospect of a school board in flux might not deter all the best candidates, said Timothy G. Quinn, managing director of the Broad Urban Superintendents Academy, which trains leaders for metropolitan school districts. “Someone could be attracted by the idea that they will have a brand new board, a clean slate of people to start with,” he said. “That is oftentimes more advantageous than a system where a board has been in place that exhibits bad habits or judgments.”

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