O'Malley Backs Off Plan To Oust Education Chief

State Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick is battling for her job.
Observers linked Gov. Martin O'Malley's shift on State Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick to a hope to keep education goals from being overshadowed. (By Christopher T. Assaf -- Baltimore Sun -AP)
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By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley asked legislative leaders yesterday to shelve a bill that would have effectively rescinded the new term of State Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. He pledged instead to work with the long-serving educator on policy priorities that include signing bonuses to lure principals to troubled schools.

O'Malley (D), who has feuded openly with Grasmick, made the announcement at a news conference at which the two sat side by side and said they will also work to expand vocational course offerings and regularly survey teachers in an effort to improve the environment in classrooms.

As recently as last week, aides said O'Malley supported legislation that would have allowed his new appointees to the state school board to decide whether Grasmick would retain her job beyond this year. In December, Grasmick was awarded a four-year contract extension, at an annual salary of $195,000, by a board controlled by appointees of O'Malley's predecessor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

Lawmakers and advisers to O'Malley attributed the turn of events to a realization that the "Grasmick bill" could have dominated the legislative session and overshadowed or delayed efforts to advance education priorities.

"I think it would have been protracted and resolved in a courtroom eventually," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), who had been prepared to introduce the bill last night. "Sometimes you can win the battle and lose the war. Unfortunately, other educational initiatives would have gone to the back burner."

O'Malley, who has made little effort to conceal his distrust of Grasmick, told reporters that he has spoken frequently since becoming governor nearly 13 months ago about the need to build consensus and put aside divisions.

"In that spirit, Dr. Grasmick and I have had a real good talk and a direct talk about the need to come together and work to improve education for the future," O'Malley said.

"I'm delighted to be here today and talk about consensus also," Grasmick said during a four-minute news conference, which ended with the two shaking hands and leaving the room without taking questions.

O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said the governor was confident that the legislation would have passed, a view echoed by Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), who agreed to abide by O'Malley's wishes.

But some allies of the governor said they had expected a tough fight and feared a backlash from female lawmakers, who have been among Grasmick's staunchest supporters since she was appointed in 1991, when William Donald Schaefer (D) was governor.

Others close to O'Malley suggested that the move could allow Grasmick to leave later on her own terms without appearing to be forced out. Efforts by O'Malley and several go-betweens to persuade her to resign had proved unsuccessful.

"What hopefully the general public wants from us is to work through things and not be in constant confrontation," Busch said. "I think this is for the benefit of everyone."

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