Patience and politics

September 12, 2007

Gov. Martin O'Malley reignited his public clash with state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick last week, suggesting that he will soon be looking for her replacement. But for all Mr. O'Malley's wishful thinking, and whatever one may think about some of Ms. Grasmick's actions, she does not serve at the pleasure of the governor - nor should she.

Ms. Grasmick is one of the longest-serving superintendents in the state and the nation, and she enjoys a wide reputation for raising standards and pushing accountability. Her bosses are the 12 members of the Maryland State Board of Education, and her latest four-year contract runs until June 30, 2008.

So then why is Governor O'Malley so vocal about his desire to replace her? As he reiterated in an interview on public radio last week, it's a question of "trust." Most notably, she initiated a move last year to change the management structures at 11 Baltimore schools that were failing. The proposed move, which was greeted with hostility by many city officials, including then-Mayor O'Malley, was blocked when the General Assembly imposed a one-year moratorium. By the time the moratorium expired, Ms. Grasmick had made no attempt to renew her proposal.

But Mr. O'Malley has clearly not forgotten that and other efforts by Ms. Grasmick and state education officials to muscle in on Baltimore schools. Mr. O'Malley thinks the governor should be able to pick his own superintendent and, by extension, county executives and the mayor of Baltimore should be able to choose local superintendents.

That would unwisely reverse decades of giving education in Maryland some insulation from partisan and electoral politics. Ms. Grasmick, a skilled survivor, may want to fight for the principle as much as for her job. Rather than continuing a public campaign to oust Ms. Grasmick, Mr. O'Malley (no political slouch himself) might be wiser to bite his tongue and bide his time.

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