O'Malley has yet to meet with Grasmick

Governor, schools chief are pursuing their own education policies

January 24, 2007|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,Sun reporter

In his first days on the job, Gov. Martin O'Malley has met with legislators, congressmen, county executives, Cabinet secretaries and more, but he has not yet sat down with the woman in charge of his top priority: state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

O'Malley, who clashed with Grasmick over control of Baltimore schools during the past four years, publicly suggested after his election as governor that she should resign. But she is the one Cabinet secretary he doesn't directly hire or fire, and he now appears resigned to the idea that she will serve out the remaining 16 months of her term.

That doesn't mean he's ready to cooperate, though.

"I would like to have a secretary of education that I trust and can work with, and someday we will," O'Malley said when asked about Grasmick at a news conference yesterday. "In the meantime, we'll make progress."

Grasmick, who is the longest serving state schools superintendent in the nation, declined to respond to O'Malley's remark and chalked up their failure to meet to the new governor's busy schedule.

But she said she isn't about to resign. The advent in 2009 of mandatory graduation exams for high school students and other issues make continuity critical for the department, Grasmick said.

She wouldn't rule out another term, and if she decides to seek one, there might not be much O'Malley can do about it - he won't have appointed a majority of the state school board, which hires and fires superintendents, until after her contract is up.

In the meantime, the governor and the superintendent are pursuing their own education policies. O'Malley, who called education his top priority in the election, put $400 million into his budget for school construction and wants to make mandatory a plan to provide more funding to jurisdictions where education is more expensive.

Aides say he also plans later in his term to pursue a campaign proposal to provide bonuses of up to $250,000 for principals who agree to work in underperforming schools.

Grasmick, meanwhile, testified before two legislative committees yesterday that she wants Maryland to adopt a system of merit pay for teachers in hopes of attracting and retaining the best educators and persuading them to work in difficult schools. Teachers unions, which backed O'Malley's candidacy, have been skeptical of the idea.

The superintendent's position is, by design, more independent from the governor than any other Cabinet post, and Grasmick has survived before when a governor came into office determined to get rid of her. She initially clashed with Gov. Parris N. Glendening, but "that relationship ended up beautifully," Grasmick said.

Del. Sheila E. Hixson, a Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the committee that handles education, said Grasmick has a great national reputation but has always had problems dealing with the Baltimore school system, which might be spilling over into her relationship with O'Malley.

"She comes up with new and innovative ideas, but she definitely has to get along with the governor to make things work," Hixson said.andy.green@baltsun.com

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