Schmoke runs into political fire Superintendent likely to return to N.C.

December 21, 1990|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Evening Sun Staff

City School Superintendent Richard C. Hunter said today that he plans to serve out the rest of his term, but will "probably" return to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when his contract runs out July 31.

"I intend to serve out the remaining seven months of this contract," said Hunter at a news conference this morning at the school department's North Avenue headquarters.

And though he voiced hope that the city Board of School Commissioners would relent in its decision not to renew his contract, Hunter noted that he remains on leave from a professor's job in Chapel Hill.

Asked if he would return there, Hunter said, "probably."

"I certainly have enjoyed the university and being in North Carolina," he said.

Hunter's statements came a day after the school board told him it would not renew his three-year contract, which pays $125,000.

The board made its decision at the behest of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who sharply criticized the superintendent earlier this week and said he had asked the board to not renew Hunter's contract.

Schmoke had said that while he would not fire Hunter, the money was available to buy out the remainder of his contract if he decided to leave early.

But Hunter said that there has been no discussion of getting him to leave before the end of the contract, nor any signs that he would be forced out.

Hunter said that he was "fairly firm" in his decision to stay on, TC rather than have his contract bought out. "I believe in working for what I receive," he said.

And Hunter insisted that he could continue to do an effective job as superintendent, despite his lame-duck status.

"It's not going to be tough for me," he said. "It may be difficult for some others."

Hunter also refused to comment specifically on any of Schmoke's criticisms. He discounted suggestions that he could cause political problems for Schmoke.

"I've been a loyal soldier to the mayor," he said. "I think the record will show that."

Top school board members said last night that they expect the school system to continuing running smoothly, despite Hunter's lame-duck status and the mayor's loss of confidence in him.

"Dr. Hunter is still in charge," said Board President Joseph Lee Smith. "He has not resigned, nor has he been fired, nor has he said that he is not going to be working."

Smith said Hunter is "committed to doing everything he can to keep the system moving along. . . . Things are not falling apart, from what we can see."

Stelios Spiliadis, board vice president, said, "He's assuring us that things are going to be running smoothly, that he will be having the support of his staff. We will have to wait and see."

Smith said it was still too early to discuss a replacement for the superintendent.

Hunter, who was ill and did not meet with the board face to face, got the word in a telephone conference call with board members gathered at the school administration headquarters.

Smith last night left the superintendent little hope that the board would reverse its decision and offer him a new contract.

"We never planned to give him a three-year contract," said Smith. "There had been some discussions about maybe a

one-year contract extension, but that had not been formalized."

Schmoke's loss of confidence in Hunter was a "critical factor" in the board's unanimous decision, Smith said.

"If the superintendent does not have the confidence of the mayor, he's going to have some difficulty," said Smith.

Meldon S. Hollis Jr., a member of the board, also cited a "major philosophical difference" between the board and Hunter on decentralizing the management of the school system.

"Basically we think that a new superintendent, [and] new leadership for the school system, will clearly understand the direction that this community wants to take," he said.

Hollis expressed some sympathy for Hunter, saying that "any superintendent would find the problems of an under-funded urban school system very difficult."

But he added, "That's why you find so many vacancies, and that's why the pay is so high. It is a hazardous and risky business."

Hollis said there have been some positive changes in the system during Hunter's tenure.

But he agreed with Schmoke that "a good portion of these changes came from people who were already in place and initiatives that were already started when the superintendent arrived."

The board's decision caps a process set in motion by Schmoke as early as last month.

The mayor, who hand-picked Hunter in 1988, had complained in the past about Hunter's management style. He had also said privately that the superintendent ignored his directions on the school system and on resolving public controversies.

Early last month, the mayor suggested to Hunter that he privately inform the board that he would not seek a new contract.

But the issue came to a head Monday when Schmoke met with Hunter privately and pressed the superintendent to serve out his contract and leave.

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