Angered by city school Superintendent Richard C. Hunter's refusal to go gracefully, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke today sharply criticized the man he hand-picked 2 1/2 years ago to revive Baltimore's ailing school system.
Any improvements in city schools during the superintendent's tenure, Schmoke said today, came "in spite of Dr. Hunter, not because of him."
The mayor made his comments after recommending that the Board of School Commissioners not offer Hunter a new contract. Hunter's current $125,000-a-year contract expires July 31, 1991.
The board, after meeting with the mayor this morning, plans to act on Schmoke's recommendation before Tuesday, said Board President Joseph Smith.
"We fundamentally disagree on the pace, the extent, and the nature of change necessary to improve the public schools and to provide the services that are necessary for our children," Schmoke said of Hunter.
The mayor said he had attempted to remove Hunter without a public debate, but that the superintendent resisted any suggestion that he not seek a new contract.
In a statement issued by the school, Hunter said, "I am shocked and saddened by the recent action of the mayor. I remain deeply committed to students, parents, staff and community of the Baltimore public schools. I hope that the mayor and the board will reflect on the progress that we have made and will change the present plan to remove the current leadership of the school system.
"I've never asked Dr. Hunter to resign," Schmoke said. "What I did do is that I told Dr. Hunter in early November that my assessment of the situation and the direction we are headed in is that it would be in the best interest of the children of this community if he would not ask for a new contract."
But instead of heeding the mayor's advice, Hunter stepped up the pace of his public appearances in what appeared to be a campaign to remain in his job past next July.
When the mayor again asked Hunter Monday night to quietly remove himself as a candidate for a new contract, the superintendent again demurred, Schmoke said.
The meeting then became public knowledge -- and Schmoke blames Hunter for it.
"It is very clear now that he and I now have a fundamental disagreement," Schmoke said. "I feel he has breeched our confidence. That puts a strain on our personal relationship."
That strain, Schmoke said, makes him "skeptical of [Hunter's] ability to be effective through the end of his contract. But we'll see."
Schmoke's action comes 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.
The mayor, who has been critical of Hunter in the past, said today that Hunter and he disagree on how the school system should be run. Moreover, Schmoke said, Hunter often has ignored his directives and has proven to be an ineffective superintendent.
"I met with the principals when I thought it was important. I asked Dr. Hunter to meet with the principals individually. He has not done that. [Deputy Superintendent J. Edward Andrews Jr.] has done that this year. I think it has made a difference."
Schmoke also said that Hunter has ignored his requests to produce a plan for revamping vocational education and that he has resisted Schmoke's call for school-based management.
"I think we need stronger, more energetic leadership," Schmoke said. "We need someone who is going to support restructuring and is going to agree with the philosophy of building this system from the bottom up."
Under the terms of the superintendent's contract, the board may fire Hunter but must pay him the remainder of his salary as severance in quarterly installments. Hunter would waive that severance pay if he resigned. Schmoke said today that, for now, he wants Hunter to stay in place until his contract expires.
He also said that it may not be necessary conduct a national search for a new superintendent.
"I don't think we have to get involved in a broad, national search," Schmoke said. "There are about 10 or 15 school systems out there looking. What I said to the board is, 'Let's be creative.' We don't have to just look in the fraternity of people who are currently superintendents."
Schmoke's announcement today was the latest bump in a rocky road for the superintendent, who took over the nearly 108,000-student school system in August 1988.
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 past school year saw tension between the two over a cut in the textbook budget. School officials used money from the textbook budget for teacher salaries and kept the move quiet until it was reported in the press.
Schmoke's displeasure eventually led to the appointment of Andrews, a former Montgomery County superintendent, who took charge of daily operations in the school system.
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.
The Hunter controversy also could put the mayor in a difficult political position, since he faces re-election in 1991.
"The easy thing to do politically was nothing," Schmoke said. "Don't make waves and just kind of let this thing limp along until jTC after the election. Don't cause any problems. But the children deserve better."