P.G. Loses a Good One

February 18, 1991

Prince George's County's loss of school chief John A. Murphy is doubly unfortunate because of his superior performance and the bungling that led to his departure.

Unlike many of his counterparts across the country who have been accused of subpar performance by critical school boards, Mr. Murphy was a top-flight administrator whose track record in improving Prince George's County's school system was measured in rising test scores and national acclaim. His use of such innovative concepts as magnet schools and science and technology high schools stemmed the flow of more affluent students to other counties by convincing parents that a quality education could be had in Prince George's.

Ironically, it was this success that sowed the seeds of Mr. Murphy's resignation to take a similar job in Charlotte, N.C.

Shaken last year when Mr. Murphy became a candidate for Miami's top school post, over-zealous county and school board officials hatched a plan to extend his contract for 10 years, with a $45,000 salary increase to $150,000 annually. This ill-fated package, approved behind closed doors with no community consultation, became the lightning rod for racial tension over a host of other issues.

Black leaders viewed this faux pas as another example of the exclusion of the county's growing black majority from political and policy decisions in Prince George's. Mr. Murphy's considerable accomplishments were ignored. When the chips were down, county and school board officials gave him little support.

The ensuing public outcry, more than anything else, prompted the school superintendent to renew his job search, finally landing the top school position in Charlotte.

Prince George's won't have an easy time finding a replacement that measures up to Mr. Murphy. The pool of available candidates is slim. The issue of race seems likely to dominate the search. And in light of the sorry performance by citizens and officials leading up to Mr. Murphy's departure, Prince George's could find it difficult to persuade top-flight talent to apply. The county may regret letting such a skilled educator slip away.

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