The Maryland legislature approved a measure last week to reconfigure the Prince George’s County school board and replace the superintendent’s post with a chief executive officer, a move that would force Superintendent Iris T. Metts to reapply for her job.
Under the legislation, a new nine-member board, to be named by the governor and the county executive, will take over the 132,000-student district June 1. The bill received final approval on the last day of the legislature’s 2002 session and had the support of Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat.
The move is intended to end a bitter struggle over who controls the Prince George’s County schools in suburban Washington.
State lawmakers representing Prince George’s County were deeply divided over the measure during the emotional floor debates, although the House of Delegates and the Senate approved the legislation by wide margins.
Sen. Nathaniel Exum, a Democrat, brought up the 1960s civil rights movement in urging his colleagues to oppose the measure: “When you take away the right of people to participate in their democracy and their ability to elect school board members, you’re taking away something that is very sacred.”
But other supporters, including members of the county’s legislative delegation, argued that the current elected school board had shortchanged students and was too immersed in political fights.
State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said in an interview that a long sequence of issues and strained relations were hurting morale and support of the district: “There are challenges in that school system related to student achievement, and that has to be the focus, not adult behavior.”
Metts’ Future Unclear
Ms. Metts, a former secretary of education in Delaware, came to the academically ailing district almost three years ago to try to help its schools. But the district board, which claimed she had mismanaged funds and had refused to collaborate on important decisions, voted to fire her in February. (“Rift Over Schools Chief Leads Md. to Intervene,” Feb. 13, 2002.) Prince George’s County has consistently been one of the lowest-performing districts in the state.
As of last week, Ms. Metts had not given any indication of whether she would apply for the new job of CEO, district spokesman Tony Ruffin said. She could also ask for a buyout of her contract.
After the legislation was approved April 8, lawmakers began searching for candidates to send to Ms. Grasmick, who will review the applications and send her recommendations to Gov. Glendening and County Executive Wayne K. Curry.
The law stipulates that at least three new members of the school board would be educators, possibly from nearby universities; at least two would have business backgrounds; two would have management experience, preferably in nonprofit or government sector; and two would come from the community.
A version of this article appeared in the April 17, 2002 edition of Education Week as Prince George’s County School Board to Be Replaced Under New Md. Law