Who will lead some 200 principals, 8,000 teachers and 136,000 students in Prince George's County public schools?

Howard A. Burnett, named interim schools chief following the May 27 resignation of chief executive Andre J. Hornsby, has made clear he is merely a caretaker to get the system through the summer break and the reopening of school in August. The Board of Education has not yet announced a search process for a longer-term successor.

But school board Chairman Beatrice P. Tignor (Upper Marlboro) sought last week to squelch the idea that she is interested in the chief's job herself. Vice Chairman Howard W. Stone Jr. (Mitchellville) had suggested Tignor would be a strong candidate.

"I believe it's my responsibility to stay focused to continue the positive work this board has begun," Tignor said in a telephone interview. She said she would neither propose herself as candidate for chief executive nor accept the post if pressed to take it by a majority of the nine-member board.

"At this point, drafting would not change my mind," Tignor said. "I would turn down the position."

Tignor has led the board for three years, since it was created in 2002 by gubernatorial and county executive appointment. Under state law, the board will give way to an elected successor after county elections next year.

Among the names mentioned for the job of schools chief are those of former school board chairman Alvin Thornton, a Howard University official and political scientist, and county Chief Administrative Officer Jacqueline F. Brown, a former Howard County education official.

Thornton has not ruled out the possibility that he would take the chief's post, but has told The Post he would not tout himself as a candidate. Brown, interviewed briefly last week after a news conference at the county government building, took essentially the same stance, declining to comment on the situation. It seems likely other names will emerge, too. Tignor said the board will give the matter highest priority this summer.

"I'm concerned for the system," said state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, asked about Prince George's in an interview in Baltimore. "So many people there are dedicated educators. They've lived through a lot of difficult changes. There's a feeling of, we've got to have stability and continuity."

Grasmick said the school board needs to find an "outstanding" leader. "The sooner, logistically, they can get a permanent leader, the better."

Budget Approval Likely

Tonight in Upper Marlboro, the school board is expected to approve a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Total spending is projected to be $1.38 billion, up from $1.27 billion in the year now concluding.

Last week, the board wrestled with about $46 million in possible reductions from the $1.42 billion spending plan it had originally requested from the county government. A top concern was a $6.4 million reduction in money for textbook purchases that Burnett proposed to help balance the budget.

A staff report indicated that the potential cut would mean delays in buying new textbooks for elementary school social studies, middle school science and high school biology and chemistry. None of the current materials are in sync with the state curriculum; all are at least a decade old. There would also be delays in buying certain texts and workbooks for special education, career and technical education, alternative schools, pre-kindergartners and students who speak limited English.

Board member Charlene M. Dukes (Glenn Dale) asked the staff to explain "how we expect to ensure that our students are getting what they need?" Burnett said that no students would be forced to go without necessary materials and that the school system would continue to upgrade its textbooks. New books have been credited with contributing to increased state test scores in the past year.

The proposed budget included $100,000 for an inspector general position to help the board answer concerns raised by the departure of Hornsby amid an FBI investigation and an ethics controversy. Hornsby, who left halfway through a four-year contract, denied wrongdoing.

The budget proposal also included about $520,000 to extend one of Hornsby's prized initiatives: middle school athletics. Sports begun last year were basketball and soccer, plus cheerleading. Sports to be added this year are baseball and softball.

Principal Departures

Philip Catania, aka the peacemaking principal at Mount Rainier Elementary, is leaving the post he has held for 17 years. This summer, Catania will take a new job at a Prince George's school staff development center in Oxon Hill. There, he will coordinate training for assistant principals, vice principals and new principals in a school system with a high level of leadership flux over the past two years.

Catania said he had mixed emotions about the switch. His school has a reputation as an oasis of nonviolence, with annual peace marches, weekly recitations of a peace pledge and daily efforts to help students appreciate the arts of mediation and dialogue.

"Seventeen years in one place," he said in a telephone interview from the office he's vacating. "I'm taking down all my pictures with kids. It's hard."

In another move, Adela Acosta has left as principal of Cesar Chavez Elementary in Hyattsville. She is now director of the Office of Intergovernmental Relations for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R). Ehrlich had praised Acosta's educational leadership in a January 2003 speech to the General Assembly; she also was recognized by President Bush as an expert on special education.

Beatrice P. Tignor (Upper Marlboro) has led the school board since it was created in 2002.