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Board Decides to Renew Grasmick's Contract

The state Board of Education agreed today to renew State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick's contract for another four years, despite a request from leading lawmakers and Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration to delay such a step until at least the summer.

O'Malley (D) has made no secret of the fact that he wants a new state schools superintendent: Grasmick, who's held the top position for 16 years, drew his ire with her handling of Baltimore schools during his tenure as mayor.

But he doesn't pick the superintendent--the state school board does. By July, he would have enough appointees on the board to determine who would serve in the superintendent slot. That's why his administration and state lawmakers were lobbying the school board not to decide on Grasmick's contract today. The board, dominated by members appointed by former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), went into a closed session a little before noon and emerged shortly before 3.

"It's a horrible mistake made by hangers-on of the previous governor to embarrass this governor," Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert) said this afternoon. "If the General Assembly needs to take remedial steps, there's certainly that willingness."

O'Malley's office released only a terse statement, saying: "We have no comment on the action of the outgoing school board. The Governor will announce three new board members tomorrow, who will take office July 1."

In recent months, O'Malley has floated the idea of asking the legislature to give him direct appointing authority of the superintendent. Miller has voiced support for the move, and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) has said that he is willing to consider it but that he does not think personality conflicts should drive education policy.

More recently, O'Malley and lawmakers have started exploring the possibility of changing the law so that the superintendent serves at the pleasure of the board. That could allow the board to fire Grasmick in July, once O'Malley has a majority of appointees.

In a letter released yesterday, Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch urged the "lame duck" school board not to reappoint the superintendent.

"The common law principle prohibiting 'lame duck' appointments provides that members of a governmental body cannot make appointments that extend beyond the term of their office. Likewise contracts extending beyond the appointment of a governing board have been invalidated under this same common law provision prohibiting the binding of successor authorities."

By Phyllis Jordan  |  December 11, 2007; 3:12 PM ET
Categories:  John Wagner  
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