Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening, in a harsh speech yesterday, said that the Board of Education's defensive response to years of court-ordered busing has resulted in "13 years of failure" and said that officials met early this year with the NAACP seeking a compromise solution to end the bitter desegregation suit.
"For 13 years the response of our school system has been resistance" to the constitutional mandate for equal education, Glendening said. "We must end this cycle that leads nowhere."
Glendening's remarks provoked an immediate protest from school board Chairman Angelo Castelli, who called the statements a "cheap shot" and "the lowest blow that Mr. Glendening has ever dealt the Board of Education."
Castelli and others took special exception to Glendening's statements to the county Board of Realtors that previous county school boards and superintendents have slowed desegregation by railing against orders handed down by the U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Castelli, who has served on the board for six years, called for a public apology from Glendening.
Glendening, urging all parties to work together to solve the schools' problems, said, "It is easy to attack that mean old judge over in Baltimore who keeps doing this to us." He said, however, that the current officials have been "much more receptive."
Castelli responded by faulting Glendening for not providing adequate funding for the school system, and said that the county executive should "put his money where his political rhetoric is."
In 1972, the NAACP, on behalf of parents of black students, brought suit against the county school system, then 25 percent black, charging that the schools were violating constitutional desegregation standards. Since then, the school board has been under federal court order to further integrate its school population. Despite one unsuccessful appeal, it remains under that order.
The school system is now 58 percent black.
"It is essential that we work with the NAACP and the school board in an attempt to establish areas of compromise," Glendening said at a Capital Centre breakfast. "These discussions have already begun.
"The conflict and resistance between these groups must stop. That is the only way you end 13 years of failure."
Castelli confirmed that school board representatives met with lawyers for the NAACP in January. The NAACP, he said, has never offered an alternate proposal.
Thomas Newman, a spokesman for the county NAACP, said that there have been discussions between both parties, but maintained that it is not up to the NAACP to offer alternatives. Newman, however, did not rule out future meetings with the school board.
"Sooner or later, you've got to sit down and talk," he said.
Glendening particularly criticized as "highly flawed" a court-appointed panel's controversial recommendations to achieve full desegregation by closing 32 schools and busing some students far across the county in rides that school officials have estimated could take 85 minutes.
"Our goal must be to have a system based on educational goals and not on transportation methods," he said, in reference to busing.
But he urged that school officials and parents work to find a compromise between the extended busing proposed by the panel headed by University of District Columbia President Robert L. Green and a plan advocated by Superintendent John A. Murphy to set up magnet schools that would draw students from different neighborhoods.
Those recommendations have been the subject of intense protest from Prince George's parents and elected officials. Earlier this week, the Board of Education told U.S. District Court Judge Frank A. Kaufman that implementing the plan would cost the county nearly $65 million.
Thomas Hendershot, a new member of the school board who was present for Glendening's speech, said afterward that it is up to the school board to draw up a compromise desegregation plan. "I'm glad to have his ideas," Hendershot said.
But Sue V. Mills, a County Council member who sat on the school board from 1970 to 1978, was less reserved in her response.
"Mr. Glendening loves to take potshots at people, but he'd better check his facts," she said. "The school board went in with a compromise [plan] and that was rejected by Kaufman."
Mills said she was referring to a plan submitted to the court last year that would have closed 22 schools over two years. Mills, who was an ardent foe of busing during her years on the school board, said that her point of view is now becoming mainstream.
"I was out there on a limb by myself for many a moon," she said, "but now [opposition to busing] apparently knows no color bounds."