City board won't rehire Dr. Hunter Superintendent asks panel to reconsider

December 21, 1990|By Kathy Lally

After deliberating for an hour at a secret location last night, Baltimore school board members did as Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke had told them and informed Richard C. Hunter, the superintendent, that his contract would not be renewed.

Still resisting to the end, Dr. Hunter issued a statement acknowledging the board's authority but suggesting that its members change their minds. Thus came the denouement of a drama that began three years ago this month when Alice G. Pinderhughes, the previous superintendent, announced her retirement, quietly bowing to the wishes of the education-minded mayor who wanted his personal imprint on the schools.

After their meeting, all nine board members arrived at North Avenue school headquarters to face reporters.

"The Board of School Commissioners has unanimously decided not to offer Superintendent Richard C. Hunter another contract upon expiration of his current contract," Joseph L. Smith, the board president, said, reading from a one-paragraph statement.

As soon as the board members had answered questions, they left the room. Then Douglas J. Neilson, the school system's VTC public relations director, distributed a statement from Dr. Hunter, who has kept a low profile since Wednesday when the mayor announced he wanted him to leave. He spent most of Wednesday in Washington. Yesterday, he called in sick with strep throat.

"I acknowledge the fact that the superintendent serves at the pleasure of the Board of School Commissioners," the statement said. "This is the democratic process. Nonetheless, in the execution of their authority to take whatever action they deem necessary, I wish to be treated fairly by the board. I hope that they will re-examine the progress that I have made and will change the present plan to remove the current leadership of the school system."

Mr. Smith said Dr. Hunter told the board he planned to finish out his term, which ends July 31. Mr. Smith said that Dr. Hunter remainedin charge of the system but that the board would meet in January to make sure lines of authority were clearly understood.

"The fact that the superintendent lost the confidence of the mayor has to be a factor," Mr. Smith said. "I don't have any problem with the way the mayor handled it."

Mr. Schmoke said Wednesday that he would not try to force Dr. Hunter to resign but that he did not want the board to renew the superintendent's $125,000-a-year contract. The mayor's statement came only a few days after a private board vote that favored keeping Dr. Hunter.

When Dr. Hunter was offered a contract almost three years ago, the first board vote was 8-1 against him. Later, board members were persuaded to change their mind by the mayor. Meldon S. Hollis Jr. was the only one in favor of Dr. Hunter on that first vote, but he said it was not he who convinced the mayor Dr. Hunter was the man for the job.

"I saw my job then as now to consult with the mayor and respect hisviews," Mr. Hollis said. "I feel he's in a particular position to speak for the citizens of Baltimore."

Mr. Schmoke is the elected official, Mr. Hollis said; the board members are only the mayor's appointees.

Two members of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance arrived at school headquarters to deliver a statement to reporters, but school officials told them they were not allowed in the board room for the news conference.

Speaking to reporters in the parking lot, the Rev. Arnold W. Howard of Enon Baptist Church and the Rev. Daki Napata of the alliance issued a statement criticizing the leadership of the mayor, the school board and the superintendent.

They criticized Mayor Schmoke for seeking Dr. Hunter's dismissal and asked for a meeting of reconciliation.

The only other member of the public present, Joe Carter, a community activist, arrived carrying a bullhorn that he said was a symbol of his desire to be heard in opposition to the mayor's action. He didn't get in.

Elsewhere, there were few visible signs of support for Dr. Hunter yesterday. Mary Pat Clarke, the City Council president, got one call supporting Dr. Hunter and one opposed to him. The mayor's office got a few calls. The school board's office got none.

Anthony V. Stewart, president of the Baltimore City Council of PTAs, said members representing 24 of the system's 180 schools gave Dr. Hunter a vote of confidence.

"We came to the conclusion that it was a type of politica strategy move by the mayor," Mr. Stewart said. "We had not done a full, conclusive survey, so what we said may not be representative of the schools."

At North Avenue headquarters, few people were talking, and no one was willing to be quoted by name. There was unease, employees said, about what might happen next. No one was telling them anything, which contributed to the unhappiness.

Dr. Hunter arrived late at a holiday party for high-level administrators Wednesday evening. Sources said he appeared subdued, and there were no visible signs of a rallying of support to fight back on his behalf.

Whether Dr. Hunter will try to mount a spirited effort to get his job back was unclear. He does have another job awaiting him.

Donald J. Stedman, dean of the education school at the University of North Carolina, said that Dr. Hunter, who was on the faculty there before taking the Baltimore job 2 1/2 years ago, would be welcome to return.

Dr. Hunter had extended the university's normal two-year leave by one year last spring, Dr. Stedman said.

"If he's not coming back, I'd like to know," Dr. Stedman said. "I'd like to have him back. I'd like to have him back because our top priority is in educating school leaders, and I want the strongest team I can get."

Now the search that began three years ago with the announcement of Mrs. Pinderhughes' retirement begins again.

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