Md. Schools Chief Is Reappointed
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
A defiant Maryland State Board of Education voted yesterday to renew the contract of Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, brushing aside objections from the governor and two leaders of the General Assembly.
The divided vote, taken during a three-hour, closed-door session, dramatically escalated a bitter power struggle between Grasmick and Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), who has said the long-serving schools chief should be replaced when her four-year term ends in June.
What impact the continued feud could have on classroom instruction is unclear. The divide between O'Malley and Grasmick has largely been driven by personality and her attempted seizure of low-performing Baltimore schools when O'Malley was mayor.
The only major policy issue on which they have differed since O'Malley's election as governor last year has centered on alternate routes to graduation for students who fall short on high school exit exams. Beginning with the Class of 2009, this year's juniors, students are required to pass a set of four exams, or earn an adequate composite score on them, to graduate. O'Malley suggested Grasmick waited too long to tackle the problem.
Although he has been heavily involved in funding decisions, O'Malley has not made education policy a major focus of his administration.
The decision to extend Grasmick's tenure by another four years drew sharp rebukes from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), who both suggested the legislature could act when it convenes in January to alter the result. Both presiding officers of the legislature had urged the board to delay action until July, by which time a majority of members will have been appointed by O'Malley.
Seven of the 12 current board members, who serve staggered terms, were appointed by then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), a close Grasmick ally. O'Malley angrily accused Grasmick of "doing Ehrlich's bidding" in last year's election by seeking to embarrass him over the performance of Baltimore schools.
Two people with knowledge of board negotiations said yesterday's vote was 7-4, with the Ehrlich appointees voting to extend Grasmick's contract.
Grasmick heralded the board's decision yesterday as evidence of its independence, saying the selection of a superintendent "should not be subjected to partisan politics." Grasmick's staff in the board room in Baltimore gave her a standing ovation when board President Dunbar Brooks announced the decision to extend her tenure as superintendent, which began in 1991, when William Donald Schaefer (D) was governor.
Miller, however, said it was the board that had engaged in partisan politics and that its action was likely "to invite litigation and legislation."
"It's a horrible mistake made by hangers-on of the previous governor to embarrass this governor," Miller said. "If the General Assembly needs to take remedial steps, there's certainly that willingness."
Miller praised Grasmick's service to the state but said that O'Malley, who will be held accountable for progress in education during his tenure, deserves "to have his people in place."