Pr. George's schools bill loses Senate momentum

With Metts' job safe, measure has lost its urgency, some say

March 09, 2002|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

After sailing through the House of Delegates, a bill to strip the Prince George's County school board of most of its power has stalled in the Senate.

Some county senators say they believe the emergency bill is no longer needed because the state school board has effectively blocked the local board from firing Superintendent Iris T. Metts, eliminating the crisis.

Others are waiting until they're assured that the legislation would include extra state aid for the county school system -- perhaps as much as $30 million.

But Prince George's leaders in the House and Senate are pledging not to leave Annapolis next month without approving major changes to the county board. A few are even pushing legislation that would impose an extra tax on long-distance phone calls made in the county to support the local school system, Maryland's second largest.

"We will get something done this year," said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, chairman of the county's Senate delegation. "If we don't, we will have failed in our responsibility to restore confidence in the leadership of the board and the school system."

The House of Delegates voted Feb. 14 to approve the emergency bill, which would create a crisis management board appointed by the governor, the county executive and the state schools superintendent. The county's elected board would need to obtain the new panel's permission on major policy, personnel and spending decisions.

The House was spurred to action when the Prince George's school board tried to fire Metts. The state school board blocked that action, ruling that only the state superintendent has the authority to fire local superintendents.

"Their hands are shackled," Sen. Leo E. Green, a Prince George's Democrat, said of the county board.

This week, the Prince George's House delegation approved a measure to replace the county's elected, nine-member school board with a new board of five elected members and four appointed ones.

But Del. Rushern L. Baker III, chairman of the Prince George's House delegation, said the county's senators shouldn't wait to act on the crisis bill.

"The emergency bill wasn't just about the superintendent," Baker said. "I think there's still a need for it because the board is still out spending money on things like more lawyers to fight the state."

Some senators say they want to take up the full range of school board bills at once, and Baker said he will push to get House approval of the more permanent board bill within the next two weeks.

But the House compromise of five elected members and four appointees does not have full support within the Senate. At least one county senator objects to any changes to the elected board, while Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller wants all members of the new board to be appointed, at least for a few years.

"Children are being deprived of a quality education in the Prince George's County schools," Miller said. "The current system is dysfunctional and is in need of a major overhaul."

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