Prince George's senators agree on new school board

County executive, governor would name panel

phone tax funds

April 02, 2002|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Prince George's senators gave their first sign yesterday of willingness to overhaul the county school board, agreeing on a bill to throw it out and replace it with one appointed by the governor and county executive.

The new board would take control June 1. The measure would force the county to impose a telephone tax as part of an effort to send more money to the county's schools.

For the past two years, some Prince George's delegates have tried to restructure the school board, only to have their efforts stalled by disagreements among the eight county senators.

"We hope this will put us in the right direction," said Sen. Leo E. Green, a Prince George's Democrat. "The engine that drives the bill forward is not the [new school board] but the money."

The proposal goes to a Senate committee for a hearing -- perhaps as early as today -- and then to the full Senate for a vote.

The legislation differs sharply from a school board restructuring bill approved last week by the House. That measure would replace the nine-member elected board with one that has five elected members and four appointed ones. Del. Rushern L. Baker III, chairman of the county's House delegation, declined to comment on the Senate delegation's action.

The Prince George's school board has been sharply criticized by county lawmakers and others throughout Maryland for its actions during the past year. The drive for legislative action gained momentum this year when the board tried to fire Superintendent Iris T. Metts -- an action that was blocked by the state school board.

The Senate legislation would ensure that the county school system would receive an extra $20 million a year from the state, beginning in July next year. The County Council would be required to impose at least a 5 percent telephone tax, raising $20 million for the county schools.

The governor and county executive would jointly appoint the new nine-member board from a list of candidates provided by the state school board -- a process almost identical to that used to select Baltimore school board members.

"This Baltimore City system has worked so well," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince George's Democrat who has been insistent on an all-appointed board.

After four years, the Prince George's board would revert to an elected body -- though no longer would its members be elected one each from nine geographic districts.

The legislation would create an administrative structure similar to Baltimore's school system, including a chief executive officer, chief financial officer and chief academic officer.

One of the eight senators voted against the measure, saying it would take away residents' right to vote. "I will not vote for any measure that would take away the right of citizens to participate in the political process," said Sen. Nathaniel Exum, a Democrat.

In Annapolis

Today's highlights

10 a.m. Senate meets, Senate chamber.

10 a.m. House of Delegates meets, House chamber.

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