Schmoke wants prompt decision on Hunter's job

December 09, 1990|By Kathy Lally

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke wants the Baltimore school board to decide within 60 days whether to renew the contract of the superintendent of schools, Richard C. Hunter, who got only a "satisfactory" job evaluation last week.

However, the mayor sidestepped questions about whether the satisfactory evaluation the school board gave Dr. Hunter Thursday was good enough to justify retaining him beyond the expiration of his three-year contract July 31.

Speculation over the superintendent's future has intensified in recent weeks as Dr. Hunter has quietly begun campaigning to retain his job. Last week, after the school board evaluated him, Dr. Hunter said he wanted to stay on as superintendent.

The school board's evaluation of Dr. Hunter's performance -- part of his contract with the city -- began earlier this year amid rumors that Mr. Schmoke had become disenchanted and lost confidence that Dr. Hunter was the man to turn around the school system.

The satisfactory rating is not the worst he could have gotten, but was far from the best: The grades used by the board included unsatisfactory, satisfactory, good or excellent.

Since Dr. Hunter took office in August 1988, two distinct views have emerged about his performance.

Dr. Hunter's detractors say they fear that Mr. Schmoke might belulled into rehiring him on the basis of improvements to the school system that have been largely the work of J. Edward Andrews, his deputy and chief administrator, who will be leaving in June.

Dr. Hunter's admirers, on the other hand, argue that it takes more than three years to show improvement in a large and deeply troubled school system and that he needs another three years to begin to show results, and that the schools need stability above all else.

Mr. Schmoke said Friday that he had spoken only briefly to Stelios Spiliadis, the school board member who was in charge of the evaluation.

"What I've asked them is to focus in on the contract," he said. "I haven't spoken to the school board about the evaluation or the contract, but obviously I will." When asked when he wanted a decision, he said, "We'll have to do it within the next 60 days."

The mayor's remarks were temperate, and he did not express the kind of frustration he clearly displayed during the last school year, when the superintendent was under fire from City Hall for numerouslapses -- including a failure to send students on field trips to city-subsidized museums and concerts where space had been held for them.

Other controversies erupted over the delivery of textbooks to classrooms. Especially galling to the mayor was Dr. Hunter's refusal to allow the Barclay School to adopt a private school curriculum after the mayor had made it clear he wanted the school to proceed.

But it was at this time that support for Dr. Hunter emerged from black ministers and civil rights leaders in the city who criticized themayor for publicly undercutting a fellow black official. Mr. Schmoke was also criticized for expecting too much too quickly. The affair grew into a hotly contested behind-the-scenes debate in which some groups lobbied heartily for the superintendent and others worked as intensely against him.

For a time, the mayor appeared ready to demand Dr. Hunter's immediate departure. However, the superintendent hired a politically savvy lawyer, Alan M. Rifkin, to negotiate for him.

Fearful of a bloody and public fight, Mr. Schmoke backed off, and in a compromise Dr. Hunter hired Dr. Andrews to take over the day-to-day management of the 180 schools.

Dr. Andrews has said several times he intends to return to his faculty job at the University of Maryland in June.

Mr. Schmoke said Friday that he has seen good things going on in individual schools, and that he hopes a plan to give principals more authority will result in further change. "I know we need improvement," he said. "Generally, I do see some signs of progress."

Still, the mayor has effectively bypassed the school administration in recent months by calling on representatives of 100 community groups to provide direct assistance to schools through a principals' assistance committee organized under his auspices.

Although two school administrators are included on the committee, it clearly is a mayoral initiative and one that avoids the bureaucracy at school headquarters on North Avenue.

Some citizen groups have faulted Dr. Hunter for being distant. Though he frequently visits schools, many principals complain that the superintendent doesn't know who they are.

The perception of aloofness has been exacerbated by the presence of a bodyguard. A school security officer follows Dr. Hunter throughout his working day, waiting outside the superintendent's office and even accompanying him into the boardroom for public meetings within school headquarters. The guard has even been spotted just outside City Council tTC chambers as the superintendent testified inside. One community leader reportedly advised Dr. Hunter to at least avoid taking his bodyguard to the barbershop.

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