Maryland lawmakers said yesterday that they will release $8 million to Prince George's County schools because they believe the new superintendent is improving the management of the state's largest school system.
Legislators withheld that money last spring because they were concerned that county school officials were not responding quickly to such problems as administrative inefficiencies, wasteful spending and outdated technology.
Yesterday, a state-appointed panel overseeing reform efforts said at a hearing in Annapolis that new Prince George's School Superintendent Iris T. Metts has addressed those problems and has submitted a plan to implement most recommendations from a state-ordered audit of the system last year.
"The school system and the oversight panel are working together like never before," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman (D-Baltimore), chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.
Del. Howard P. Rawlings (D-Baltimore), a major critic of the Prince George's schools' leadership last spring and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, did not attend the hearing. But Hoffman said she was confident that he would agree that the money should be released within a week or two.
Metts welcomed that judgment and told legislators that she intends to use some of the money to fund an in-school suspension program at all of the county's 46 middle and high schools.
"I'm so pleased," Metts said. "I think what [the legislators] are saying is: 'We've talked about it enough. Everyone knows the problems in the system. Now we need to go about fixing them.' "
Artis Hampshire-Cowan, chairman of the panel overseeing school reforms, said that since Metts took over the system in July, communication between the panel and school officials has improved. And she said the panel was pleased that Metts has saved as much as $8 million by eliminating 130 positions in the central administration, moved to upgrade technology and submitted a detailed plan of how the system will implement most of the 289 audit recommendations.
State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick said Metts "is a person who understands collaboration of all the individuals needed to support public education."
Metts has said she disagrees with some of the audit recommendations, and yesterday several legislators pushed her to elaborate.
Metts said she would produce a more detailed explanation by late December.
Prince George's legislators, who met with Metts two weeks ago to review her plans, said they were glad other state lawmakers appear to appreciate her efforts.
"There's a lot of things that need to be changed in the system, and one meeting isn't going to change that," said Del. Rushern L. Baker III (D), chairman of the Prince George's delegation. "But I'm confident it will be done."