Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke today said he has asked the school board not to renew the contract of embattled city school Superintendent Richard C. Hunter.
"For me, what's at issue is not just where the school system is now, but the direction it will be taking in the future," Schmoke said today during a news conference.
"I did not expect him to have a quick turnaround of the school system in two or four years, but what I did expect was steady progress."
The school board is to meet within the next few days and announce its decision before Christmas.
Hunter had been fighting for his job amid speculation that Schmoke wanted him out.
Schmoke met with the city's Board of School Commissioners today to discuss the superintendent's contract.
Hunter, who has said he wants to remain as superintendent, was unavailable for comment. But Douglas J. Neilson, spokesman for the school department, said that he had discussed resignation rumors with Hunter and that the superintendent's position had not changed.
"He's looking forward to serving out his contract, and is still interested in entertaining discussions on a continuation of his contract," said Neilson.
Schmoke had summoned the board amid indications that he would drop Hunter, either by not renewing Hunter's three-year contract when it expires July 31 or by seeking the superintendent's resignation.
The meeting also came in the wake of a "satisfactory" board evaluation of Hunter's performance, which has been widely interpreted as a less than favorable grade for the school chief, who earns $125,000 a year.
The mayor, who has been critical of Hunter in the past and, according to some reports, considered dropping him earlier this year.
Schmoke confirmed that he had met with Hunter privately Monday. Asked yesterday about reports that he had sought Hunter's resignation during that meeting, Schmoke said, "I'm not prepared to comment on that."
The school board technically appoints the superintendent, though the board is appointed by and reports to the mayor.
Under the terms of the superintendent's contract, the board may fire Hunter but must pay him the remainder of his salary as severance pay, in quarterly installments. Hunter would waive that severance pay if he resigned.
Since the mayor decided not to renew Hunter's contract, the board will probably set up a search committee for a new superintendent.
The options could include an appointment from within the system itself or a nationwide search for a new superintendent.
Schmoke's announcement today was just the latest bump in a rocky road for the superintendent, who took over the nearly 110,000-student school system in August 1988.
In the past, Schmoke has complained about Hunter's management style, saying privately that Hunter ignored his directions regarding the school system and resolving public controversies.
For instance, two years ago, Hunter and Schmoke clashed when the superintendent at first refused to let Barclay Elementary School use a private school curriculum as an experiment.
The last school year saw tension between the two over a cut in the textbook budget. School officials used money from the textbook budget for teachers salaries and kept the move quiet until it was reported in the press.
Schmoke's displeasure eventually led to the appointment of a deputy superintendent who took charge of daily operations in the school system, J. Edward Andrews, a former Montgomery County superintendent.
But the mayor earlier this year dismissed published reports that he intended to replace the superintendent by June of this year.
The latest round of speculation about Hunter's future began two weeks ago, when the school board issued its "satisfactory" evaluation of the superintendent's performance in the 1989-1990 school year.
That evaluation was seen by some critics as a mere passing grade for the superintendent.
"When the school board comes out and says we are giving you a grade of 'C' or just 'fair,' we in this city have to question whether this is good enough in a school system that needs an 'A' superintendent," said Del. Elijah E. Cummings, D-City. "It's that simple."
The Hunter controversy also could put the mayor in a difficult political position in an election year.
Schmoke made improving the school system a central part of his platform when he first ran in 1987, and effectively hand-picked Hunter as his school chief, after asking former superintendent Alice G. Pinderhughes to step down.