Md. Bill To Target Tenure of Grasmick

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 31, 2008

Democratic leaders of the Maryland General Assembly are preparing to push a bill that would effectively rescind the recent four-year reappointment of embattled State Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and allow new school board appointees of Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) to decide whether to extend her tenure beyond this year.

The bill, which lawmakers said will be introduced in the Senate by early next week, is the latest move in a bitter power struggle between O'Malley, who has feuded with Grasmick and wants her replaced, and a long-serving superintendent who is close to former governors Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and William Donald Schaefer (D).

Republican lawmakers protested yesterday, saying intervention by the Democrat-dominated legislature would be an abuse of power. They signaled that the issue could be the most acrimonious of a 90-day session that has had little drama in its opening weeks.

Grasmick declined to comment, saying she has not seen the bill.

The legislation, which has O'Malley's support, would push back the end of Grasmick's current term from June until December. By that time, O'Malley will have gained a majority of appointees on the 12-member State Board of Education, whose members serve staggered terms. The board would then decide whether to retain Grasmick or reverse a decision that the Ehrlich-majority board made in December to grant her another term.

"If they look at her and say she's the best person for the job, then she should keep the job," Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said. "But this is a lady who is closely aligned with Governor Ehrlich, joined at the hip. It's hard to have someone who's been aligned with the enemy camp implementing your policy on something as important as education."

House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said he understands the concerns about the longevity of Grasmick's tenure, which began in 1991 while Schaefer was governor. Busch said he wants to ensure that any legislation is "driven by policy, not personality." Late yesterday afternoon, Grasmick was seen sitting outside his office, awaiting a meeting.

House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert) called the anticipated legislative action "the height of the arrogance of power."

"It is the worst type of government activity that I can imagine, trying to inject machine-style politics into the education of our children," O'Donnell said.

Grasmick, who has served with four governors, was bolstered by Education Week's recent ranking of Maryland public schools as the third best in the nation. But some of her staunchest Democratic supporters are no longer in the legislature or other positions of power, and O'Malley has expressed a deep level of distrust borne of disputes with Grasmick during his tenure as Baltimore mayor.

Miller said yesterday that the bill "is not about Nancy Grasmick the person," who he said has done much good for the state.

Miller and a senior aide to O'Malley said the legislation makes sense from a policy standpoint. Under the current system, O'Malley's appointees would not be in a position to control the choice of a superintendent until halfway through the governor's second term.

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