By MARGO ABADJIAN
Journal staff writer
The State Board of Education Monday voted unanimously to
reverse the county board's decision to fire Superintendent
Iris T. Metts.
"The county board illegally terminated her," said Valerie
Cloutier, the state board's lead counsel. "Only the state
superintendent has the exclusive authority to terminate a
The state board will issue a detailed opinion by its next
meeting, explaining its rationale for overturning the county
board's decision, said Marilyn Maultsby, president of the
"Iris T. Metts is hereby reinstated to her position as the
superintendent of Prince George's County Schools," she said.
The county board has the right to appeal the decision in
On Feb. 2, in a 6-3 vote, the county school board fired
Metts. Metts appealed the firing to the state board of
education. A temporary restraining order, granted by the
Prince George's Circuit Court Feb. 3, allowed Metts to go
back to work.
The restraining order was initiated by the three county
board members who voted against the termination. Those
members, Doyle Niemann, District 3; Catherine Smith,
District 4; and Bernard Phifer, District 8, through their
attorney, submitted their own appeal against the termination
to the state board.
Metts' attorney, Stuart Grozbean, has argued the firing was
illegal because the state board did not consult with the
state superintendent of schools or a school system oversight
panel, nor did it give Metts the required 45-day notice
under her contract. The board has since served Metts with a
Grozbean and the attorney for the three board members who
voted against Metts' termination were allowed 10 minutes
each to make their arguments to the state board Monday.
"I ask you to affirm the integrity of the law as we've known
it for the last 65 years," said Tim Maloney, who represented
the three board members who support Metts.
Quick action is in order, he said at the hearing, as
legislators are considering emergency action regarding
powers of the county school board.
"The state board of education needs to act expeditiously,"
he said. "There has never been a more critical time for
Prince George's County schools and Prince George's County
than now." Grozbean argued that the contract between the
board and Metts, which allowed for a buyout should Metts be
terminated early, cannot trump state law.
"It would have been easy for Dr. Metts to turn and run. She
has been publicly ridiculed, embarrassed and defamed both as
an individual and as a professional," he said.
Metts was hired to "take charge and lead" and instead she
found a board who believed in "micromanagement," Grozbean
The state board has no jurisdiction in the matter, argued
Andrew Nussbaum, an attorney representing the board
He called the dispute "a contractual matter between the
county board and its employee, the superintendent."
Responding to objections that the management oversight panel
did not receive notification of Metts' termination, Nussbaum
argued that the county board is required to alert the MOP to
hirings of senior personnel, not terminations.
The board has argued that it was justified in firing Metts,
citing declining test scores and financial mismanagement.
The board also has argued that Metts has approved programs
and financial transactions without board approval.
The board and Metts have clashed over numerous issues since
early in her administration. Board members have accused
Metts of implementing programs without board approval. Metts
has accused the board of micromanagement. Reports that Metts
was considering resigning circulated following an action the
board took restricting Metts' authority to sign contracts.
The board and Metts agreed to conduct talks to negotiate her
resignation. But the talks, which were held Feb. 2, broke
down. In a closed session that same day, the board voted to
terminate Metts who has nearly 1 1/2 years left in her
The county school board once before tried to oust Metts. A
measure to fire her last summer only mustered four votes on
the board. At the same time, the board gave Metts a
below-average evaluation, and no raise or bonus. Metts has
appealed that evaluation to the state board.
After the state board returned from closed executive session
with its decision to reverse the county board's vote,
Grozbean relayed Metts' pleasure with the decision.
When asked if Metts will stay on to the end of her contract,
he replied: "If she didn't want to finish her term then she
wouldn't have gone to the trouble [of fighting the county
Board members who voted to terminate Metts said they were
disappointed with the decision.
The board sees Metts as an employee, and without the power
to terminate her position they have little supervisory power
over her, said Kenneth Johnson, board chairman representing
"Now she has a license to do what she wants because we can't
terminate her," he said.
Johnson said the board will have to meet to determine
whether to appeal the opinion.
James Henderson, District 2, was also unhappy with the state
board's decision. Speaking by phone from a rally in
Annapolis protesting the emergency legislation that would
strip the board of some of its power, he called the decision
"third-world" and said "backroom politics has taken over
Prince George's County."
"That's not what I wanted to hear," he said. "Obviously the
decision was more political than right."
Journal staff writer Sarah Brumfield contributed to this
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