ANNAPOLIS – School boards in Maryland can launch national searches for superintendents, identify slates of hopeful candidates and zero-in on a top pick.
But when it comes to actually hiring and firing them, that power is out of reach, reserved only for state Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. Under Maryland law, the state school chief has the final say.
A Howard County legislator hopes to change that rule in the fall, giving local school boards the authority to remove a superintendent under certain circumstances, free of Grasmick’s oversight.
“Once in a while, you’ll get a real bad apple,” said Robert Kittleman, R- Howard, the bill’s sponsor. “The superintendent shouldn’t be able to say, `You can’t fire me. I’ll go to the state superintendent (and) she’ll support me.’ The school board is supposed to be the boss.”
Kittleman’s proposal has left state school officials less than enthused, and Grasmick turned out before the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee Wednesday to oppose the measure. She was joined by Prince George’s County Superintendent Iris Metts, who found herself at the center of a full-blown conflict last year with the Prince George’s County Board of Education.
Metts, who recently announced she is stepping down to take a position with a private education-related company, was ousted last year along with the nine- member board. Members were replaced with a state-appointed panel that kept Metts on as head of the schools.
Metts complimented Grasmick Wednesday for working as a negotiator throughout the ordeal.
“I think I really represent an instance where the leadership of the state superintendent was just really essential,” she said. “This was an exception, but often, you do need this type of law . . . For the sake of the children, you need someone at the state level.”
The state board opposed Kittleman’s measure as well, and members have questioned whether there is a need for change.
At a meeting in Baltimore, member JoAnn Bell said there was no point in altering a law that “has worked since 1916.”
The state superintendent, in many cases, has worked as a sort of mediator between local boards and superintendents, resolving conflicts as they arise, said Dunbar Brooks, another state board member.
“If it’s not broken, why fix it?” he said.
Kittleman, on the other hand, contends the rule needs to change so that local boards can be the “the boss” of their own employees.
“If you’re going to have a relationship between the school board and the superintendent,” he said, “it should be a strong relationship.”