The city school board last night promised parents' groups that they will be allowed to interview finalists for the job of school superintendent.
But that promise, while welcome, was not enough to satisfy some who attended the open forum sponsored by the Baltimore Council of PTAs.
"It is happening out of the goodness of your heart as opposed to a policy that is in place," said Anthony V. Stewart, president of the council. "We hope that it becomes board policy as opposed to a courtesy from you."
The exchange, though polite, illustrated the touchy state of relations between some parents and the board.
It came during a frank, two-hour discussion of parental involvement in the school system that included about 40 parents and five members of the nine-member Board of School Commissioners.
Just last week, Stewart and others at a board meeting criticized the panel for failing to involve parents in the search for a new superintendent. They challenged board members to attend last night's public forum and answer questions about the search and other issues.
And last night, board members assured parents that they will play an important role in picking the new superintendent.
"We will set up a time when you all will be involved in interviewing the finalists," said Doris M. Johnson, who chairs the board's personnel committee.
Pressed by Stewart, some board members said they would be willing to make that a formal policy.
At this point, eight candidates remain on a list of candidates for the superintendency. Board members plan to meet again tomorrow to narrow the list further, according to Joseph Lee Smith, board president.
The term of current Superintendent Richard C. Hunter expires at the end of July and will not be renewed.
Board members also were grilled about what they expect in a new superintendent.
"I think what we want is a leader who understands what the
school board views as what's important and can actively lead us in that direction," said board member James E. Cusack.
Stelios Spiliadis, vice president of the board, said the new superintendent must be able to work harmoniously with many different interest groups.
"That is something that did not happen in the past," he said.
Some parents also demanded to know whether board members would support a new superintendent in the face of what some see as meddling by City Hall.
"Without your support, he's down the tubes before he begins," said Jan Anderson, president of the Woodhome Elementary School PTA.
But board member Meldon S. Hollis Jr. said he knows of no instances where Mayor Kurt Schmoke intervened directly with the school board to scuttle one of Hunter's initiatives.
The discussion grew heated at times, as parents complained about aloof school administrators who resist parental involvement.
"We have not been welcomed. We have been treated like we came there to wage war," said one angry parent. "Some of you who work in the administration send your children to the better schools, where you don't have to deal with that."
Smith assured parents that the board will talk with
administrators about the problem. He also said parents will get a chance to raise the subject with finalists for the superintendent's job.
Smith acknowledged after the meeting that communications need to be improved between the board and parents.
Stewart said that while parents were pleased that they could express their views, the board must be more explicit about ways to involve them in the school system.
He also vowed that last night's forum "cannot be a one-time thing. This is not the end of it. We as parents will meet again."