County Council member Thomas R. Hendershot (D-New Carrollton) sat quietly this week as his colleagues discussed forming a task force to study whether adding on or building new schools is the better way to handle crowding.

He said he wasn't going to say anything at first. But then, he spoke up, saying he couldn't stay silent any longer.

"I think we need to be cautious about . . . instructing those who deal with something day in and day out," Hendershot said.

"We don't tell engineers how to run NASA. We ought not be telling a superintendent how to run schools."

Then Hendershot used what has become a familiar refrain for him over the past year: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it. I don't think it's broke."

The task force, which the council approved 7 to 2, will include three members appointed by the county executive, by the county Board of Education and by the County Council, and one member selected by the chair of the county Senate delegation, by the House delegation, by the State Board of Education and by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

Council member Camille Exum (D-Seat Pleasant) told Hendershot that she heeded his words. But she added: "The role of this body is to be accountable for taxpayer resources. And that is not a responsibility I intend to shirk or give to anyone else."

The formation of the task force comes after a heated meeting last month during which the council voted to block the school board's effort to expand five high schools and instead decided to push for new buildings.

Schools chief Andre J. Hornsby left the meeting shortly after the vote was taken. The council then sent him a letter asking him to apologize for his abrupt exit. He said he gave the County Council ample notice that he would have to leave the meeting early.

"They knew why I left," he said.

He pointed out that he, his staff and school board members had arrived for a meeting on the capital budget the week before, but the council members then decided they needed more time to review the materials and asked to reschedule the meeting for the following week.

"They assumed I could come over anytime next week," he said. "I said I could meet Tuesday morning but that I had a plane to catch."

Hornsby said he left after the discussion had ended and after the council took its vote.

"I figured the business is over and it was time for me to get up and leave and get on the plane," he said.

Hornsby said he has made an effort to collaborate with the County Council.

"I believe that there has been adequate opportunity for consultation and discussion on every pertinent matter regarding Prince George's County schools over the past year that I've been here," he said.

As for the council's request for an apology, he said: "I think there's no apology necessary."

Meanwhile, he is preparing to write a letter to the county executive to get some more money. At a budget meeting Monday night, Hornsby said the school system would have to spend $6.8 million to pay for an additional 111 temporary classrooms because of the council's decision to block plans for the high school expansions. He and the school board discussed the possibility of sending a letter to the county executive asking for more money to help pay for the trailers.

"Because of decisions that were made that are going to negatively impact the system, I'd be happy to draft a letter to the county executive," he said.

AC Is on the Way

County officials pledged last August that air-conditioning units would be installed in all of the county's public school classrooms over the next two years.

In a news conference designed to either update the public on the county's plans or to remind residents of what the county is doing, county officials said it again this week.

The event came after students at Oaklands Elementary School in Laurel wrote letters thanking the county executive for providing the money for the air conditioning.

Oaklands is one of 14 schools across the county that have been cooled since August. Last year, the county pledged to spend at least $10 million on the project. So far, it has spent $3.1 million.

Over the hum of an air conditioner in an Oaklands Elementary School classroom, Hornsby said this week that classrooms in 17 more schools will be outfitted with air conditioners this summer and that 20 additional schools will have the units by September 2005.

A 17-Year Itch

County Council Chairman Tony Knotts (D-Temple Hills) apparently has a thing about the cicadas.

At least, if you listen to him lately, that's what you'd think.

During a recent interview about changes made to the budget, Knotts said "the council is like the cicadas."

Then during a recent news conference to discuss the county's rating upgrade by Moody's Investors Service, Knotts said "Prince George's County is like the cicadas."

He always finishes the sentence with "it's taken 17 years, but we have arrived."

Hoyer Town Halls

U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), who represents part of Prince George's County, will hold two town hall meetings in the county in coming days.

On Saturday, Hoyer will talk to residents at the Potomac Knolls Community Center in Fort Washington about issues pending in Congress. The meeting will take place from 10 to 11:30 a.m.

On Monday, Hoyer has invited senior citizens to Bradford Oaks Nursing Center in Clinton from 1 to 2:30 p.m. to discuss the new prescription drug law.

Also on Monday, the County Council's Transportation, Housing and Environment committee has scheduled a public hearing at 7 p.m. at the County Administration Building to discuss basement flooding. Council member David Harrington (D-Bladensburg), who chairs the committee, said he wants to hear from residents who have raised concerns about possible building inspector or building code problems.