Local boards losing control


Power: The state ruling on who has the right to fire a superintendent makes county school boards seem vaguely irrelevant

February 13, 2002|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

IF I WERE a voter in Prince George's County, here's what I'd be thinking about the Iris T. Metts affair:

Sure, we got ourselves a rogue school board that's been making a collective fool out of itself for more than a year.

But it's our school board, duly elected, ours to vote out of office if this behavior continues. And now we're told that though our board has the legal authority to hire our superintendent, it doesn't have the power to fire her.

What's more, state officials and politicians are working to fire our elected board and replace it with what amounts to an appointed one. Haven't we been there before?

These and other concerns were swirling around the state yesterday in the aftermath of the State Board of Education's decision Monday evening to reverse the firing of Prince George's Superintendent Metts. Only the state superintendent of schools can do that, according to the decision.

"Let's see if we've got this straight," said Carl W. Smith, executive director of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education. "Our boards can hire superintendents, but they can't fire them. Isn't that a sort of legal limbo? I've been in education for 40 years, and this is truly unprecedented."

I attended the state board's Monday afternoon hearing on Metts' appeal of her firing, and her lawyers told the board that the state superintendent's authority over the firing of school chiefs goes back 65 years. If that's the case - and who can doubt a lawyer? - then two-plus generations of Maryland school board members and local superintendents have been misinformed.

Smith sees the reversal of the Metts firing as further evidence of the erosion of local control in American education. He has a large point. Thirty years ago, about the time Prince George's moved from an appointed to an elected board, the 24 superintendents and their boards wielded most of the power. A gentlemanly state superintendent, James Sensenbaugh, seldom intervened in local affairs.

At the dawn of the 21st century, we have a new federal education law filled with regulations and accompanying red tape. We have the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, reconstitution of schools, state orders on everything from reading to physical education, talk of a state curriculum in every academic subject, new high school exit examinations imposed by the state - and a powerful state board reversing the dismissal of a local superintendent.

It's something for those who would run for school board to think about.

Cuban kids outscore others in Latin America

A study by a regional task force on Latin America, sponsored by UNESCO, found recently that Cuba leads Latin America - by far - in primary education.

Cuban third- and fourth-graders so outdistanced other Latin American countries that UNESCO officials returned for retesting. Even the lowest fourth of Cuban kids performed above the regional average in math and language. Cuba spends one-sixth as much per pupil as the United States.

Historical note from days of segregated schools

Dee Lyon, an inestimable library researcher at The Sun, is able to find a needle of information in a haystack of a library. This time she's come up with a Black History Month insight - a Sun report on a city school board meeting of Dec. 21, 1880.

According to the report, the board upheld the recommendation of its committee on colored schools not to open two black schools in January. There was not enough crowding in the city's 16 colored schools to warrant two more, said the report of the colored school committee, adding:

"When the supply of school facilities for colored people exceeds the demand, where there is no pretext of crowded schools or of a local need for schools, it seems unjustifiable to expend the public money in such an enterprise." Nor, it said, was it a good idea to provide new jobs for black teachers when "white applicants of the highest qualifications have been waiting for years."

No resolution in sight for college name dilemma

An unsigned e-mail suggests Western Maryland College change its name to Westminster College in Maryland. The location modifier, says this person, would distinguish the newly named school from the half-dozen or so other Westminster colleges, in much the same way Loyola College is formally Loyola College in Maryland.

Then there's the Coalition to Save Western Maryland College, which on Monday insisted that the name not be changed. Brian C. Griffiths, WMC Class of 2000, who heads the group, said the decision to change the name was made without consulting students, alumni or friends of the college.

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