Top Md. Legislators Request Delay in Schools Chief Vote

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The two Democratic leaders of the Maryland General Assembly urged the State Board of Education yesterday to delay a decision about extending the tenure of Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, who is locked in an ugly power struggle with Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) over her future.

The board, a majority of whose members were appointed by then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), could appoint Grasmick to another four-year term as early as today. Grasmick's new term would start July 1, the day O'Malley will gain a majority of appointees on the board, whose 12 members serve staggered terms.

O'Malley, who as mayor of Baltimore sparred frequently with Grasmick over the city's low-performing schools, has made no secret of his desire to replace her. During last year's campaign, O'Malley accused Grasmick of "doing Ehrlich's bidding" and more recently said the public deserves a better relationship between the governor and superintendent.

In a letter sent last night to the school board president, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) argued that reappointing Grasmick before July 1 would be inconsistent with the intent of the law and not be "in the best interests of the State's K-12 education system and the students and parents that it serves."

Grasmick, through a spokesman, declined to comment. First appointed in 1991, she is the one of the nation's longest-serving state education chiefs.

Board President Dunbar Brooks refused to discuss her future in an interview last week, citing confidentiality rules about personnel matters. He did not return phone calls yesterday.

Blair G. Ewing, one of five O'Malley appointees on the board, said that he plans to urge his colleagues to put off a decision about Grasmick's future at the board's scheduled meeting today in Baltimore.

"My understanding is she wants to stay," Ewing said of Grasmick.

O'Malley spokesman Steve Kearney pointed to past statements the governor has made regarding Grasmick's service, saying that "the governor's position has not changed."

Under current law, if Grasmick is reappointed, the board may then terminate her mid-term only for "immorality, misconduct in office, insubordination, incompetency or willful neglect of duty."

Grasmick has argued that the current system insulates the state's top educator from political pressures.

In their letter, Miller and Busch suggest it is "not reasonable" for a governor to have no say in who fills such an important post.

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