Senate OKs school system bill

Prince George's delegates take up restructuring plan

April 04, 2002|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

The effort to impose change on the troubled Prince George's school system picked up momentum yesterday with Senate passage of a bill to throw out the county's elected school board and replace it with an appointed one.

The measure - which would force Superintendent Iris T. Metts to reapply for her job and create an administrative structure similar to Baltimore's - could send an extra $23 million in state aid to the county next year if the General Assembly passes a tobacco tax increase.

The changes would mark the most significant shift in authority over a school system since Baltimore relinquished some control to the state in 1997. Student achievement in Prince George's is second-lowest in Maryland on state exams, higher only than Baltimore.

"Our kids are not going to make it" unless the bill is passed, said Sen. Ulysses Currie, a Prince George's Democrat and former county principal. "This bill is just the beginning."

The legislation was approved 40-6 and sent to the House, where Prince George's delegates are scheduled to take it up this morning. Del. Rushern L. Baker III, the House delegation chairman, was confident that delegates will make only modest changes to the Senate plan.

"I have the votes," Baker said. "We won't go away from here without having done something about the school board."

Under the Senate plan, the county's elected school board would be replaced June 1 by a board jointly appointed by the county executive and governor from a list of candidates submitted by the state school board - the same procedure used to pick Baltimore's school board. The system would return to having an elected board in four years.

The superintendent would be replaced by a chief executive officer, and the administrative structure would have a corporate style much like Baltimore's system.

The bill would require the county to impose a telephone tax - raising at least $20 million for schools - and state aid would be increased by another $20 million for the 2003-2004 school year.

Some Prince George's lawmakers have fought the plan to replace the elected board with appointees.

"When you take away the right of the people to partake in a democratic vote for their school board, you're taking away something that is very sacred," said Sen. Nathaniel Exum, a Democrat.

But supporters say they believe the bill will create a fresh start for the system.

"I'm optimistic that this will provide what we need," said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, chairman of the Senate delegation. "With the money and the new leadership, I think this will restore confidence."

The House may try to change the Senate bill to allow Metts to stay in place through the summer to make a smoother transition to a chief executive officer, Baker said.

But Prince George's delegates who initially backed a plan to make the school board partially appointed and partially elected now seem willing to support the Senate's insistence on an all-appointed board.

"The current Prince George's school board is dysfunctional and broken, and anything we can do from Annapolis going to be an improvement," said Del. Anthony Brown, a Prince George's Democrat. "I think the appointed board is preferred over the board we have today."

Sun staff writer Tim Craig contributed to this article.

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